News Analysis

Army to guard one-sided polls

Shakhawat Liton

Amid a volatile political situation, the army along with other law enforcement agencies has been given a huge responsibility to ensure a peaceful atmosphere for the January 5 parliamentary polls.
The BNP-led 18-party opposition alliance has not only boycotted the ballots, but also announced that it would resort to all means to foil the voting by enforcing agitation programmes.
Credibility of this election has already been questioned on many grounds, particularly for 154 candidates to be elected uncontested. It means that the voters of more than half of 300 constituencies will have their representatives elected without casting a single vote.
All the prevailing signs suggest that international community might refrain from sending election observers to Bangladesh. In a clear manifestation of its stance against the polls, the European Union yesterday announced that it would not send observers to oversee the polls. Even the local observers might follow suit.
Against such a backdrop, the ensuing election looks all set to suffer from credibility crisis locally and internationally.
Army personnel, though, will start discharging their election duties from this week.
Like the Awami League-led government, Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad himself was earlier against deployment of army in the polls. At a meeting with diplomats in October last year, he categorically said the EC had no plan to deploy army during the parliamentary election.
Sticking to its stance, the EC had refrained from suggesting that the government restore a provision in the RPO to give the armed forces sweeping authority to arrest anybody without warrant for violation of electoral laws within a radius of 400 yards of the polling stations on the polling day.
Earlier last year, Rakib’s predecessor ATM Shamsul Huda had suggested restoration of the provision in the RPO, which was scrapped by the AL-led government in February 2009. Before the 2001 parliamentary polls, the armed forces were given the authority by amending electoral laws.
On July 24 this year, AL General Secretary and LGRD Minister Syed Ashraful Islam had asked the deputy commissioners (DC), who were appointed as returning officers by the EC, to prepare for holding the election in a free, fair and credible manner without the help of the army.
However, the prevailing political situation compelled the EC and the government to change their stance on army deployment. Now, like in the past, the role of the army might determine the atmosphere leading to the January 5 polls.
In every parliamentary election held since 1973, the army was deployed alongside other law enforcement agencies to ensure peaceful polls atmosphere. Its role has been lauded, particularly since the restoration of democracy in 1991.
But this time around, the prevailing situation reminds political analysts of the February 15, 1996 polls and the cancelled election of January 2007.
The army had cooperated with the then BNP government to hold the controversial February 15, 1996 election amid a boycott of polls and violent street agitations by the AL and other opposition parties.
However, the army did not play the same role in January 2007.