In the recently held local elections, three people were killed and many were injured because of the clashes of opponent groups in Bangladesh. Electoral violence is, of course, not new in the country. Sometimes electoral violence is at an extreme level, sometimes it is less severe. It is difficult to find elections from the national to city corporations to local levels that are not marred by some sort of violence, which occurs before, during and immediately after elections. But it does not get deserved attention though violence-free electoral campaigns and cast of votes without any fear, threats of attacks, or actual physical attacks are important components, not exclusive components, of credible elections. Thus, an important question can be asked: Is it possible to stop electoral violence in Bangladesh?
Notably, electoral violence not only causes deaths and injuries of political leaders, activists and general people but also brings many other negative consequences in economic, social, political, and other terms. Undeniably, devastation or vandalism that is associated with electoral violence among inter-party and intra-party rival groups causes huge economic loss through damaging diverse sorts of properties or burning houses and vehicles. Socially, electoral violence causes a terror-like situation, can help develop violent behaviors among others and brings some other negative social consequences. Politically, it facilitates electoral manipulation and changes the results of the elections through intimidating voters or snatching away ballot papers, leads to the sustenance of the culture of political violence and strengthens political enmity among different groups of people that may last for years.
To end electoral violence, it is important to understand its causal links. Of course, the causal links of electoral violence in Bangladesh can be broadly explained from three viewpoints: electoral administration-based, political party, leader or activist-based and local/ethnic traditional enmity-based. It is notable that the election commission is responsible for the peaceful management of elections. For this, the commission takes supports from law-enforcing agencies including Police, RAB and others for making sure that elections are held without any violence and voters can cast votes without any fear of being attacked or without attack. Main election administration-based reasons include the controversial roles of the commission in holding elections and making enabling environment for elections and the failure of the law enforcing agencies to ensure violent free elections, no matter whether elections are parliamentary, city corporations, or local elections.
There are many political parties, leaders and activists-based reasons for electoral violence including an intention to stay in/get power by any means, the mentality to exert hegemony, the political culture of revenge, the culture of intolerance and the intention to show personal/group importance to the affiliated party. Major political parties have a general tendency to go to or stay in power by any means. Consequently, the party in power (not necessarily any particular party in power) has a general tendency to manipulate electoral administration for favorable electoral outcomes. While this encourages leaders and activists at different levels to exert muscle power against oppositions, it makes opposition leaders and activists angry, leading to electoral violence. Moreover, political leaders, candidates, or activists of major parties have a usual tendency to exert hegemony in the locality and win the election by force and manipulation of local electoral administration. Consequently, violence in the local context, especially in the parliamentary, city corporations, Upazila (sub-district) and Union Parishad level elections, may not always reflect the party position.
Of course, local/ethnic traditional enmity plays important roles in electoral violence in Bangladesh. Notably, local/ethnic traditional enmity was there for decades before the widespread involvement of local people in different political parties. In each locality (specifically, at each union or ward level locality), there are on most occasions several influential families/groups that had competed with each other for controlling the locality. But the involvement with political parties helped locally competing groups or influential elite families exert their muscle power against each other in different forms. The winning of elections appears to them as an important decisive factor for shaping the local hegemonic dominance. Consequently, electoral violence sometimes occurs through reflecting the local level traditional enmity or power dynamics, even if such violence may not have direct links with central party positions or central command does not support violence among candidates of the same parties. This is visible in the parliamentary and other local-level elections.
Of diverse broad reasons, the deserved roles of the election commission and law enforcing agencies alone can end electoral violence completely or reduce its occurrence to an acceptable level. But election administration remains questioned in most elections. This is because of not only a lack of professionalism and responsible-ness among election commissioners and officials and law enforcing personnel but also because of the usual tendency of the party in power to influence the election commission and law enforcing agencies. The latter cause is more dominant. The political party, especially the party in power (in the general sense), not only influences election administration but also reduces the possibility of developing professional, stronger and responsible election commission and law enforcing agencies capable of playing deserved roles. Again local/ethnic traditional enmity may not do much without direct or indirect support from affiliated political parties and leaders. In the final analysis, political party, leader, or activist-based reasons, thus, appear to be the most important in Bangladesh.
It is relevant to note that there is an increased tendency among some political leaders, election commissioners and other electoral administrators to say after elections that elections are peacefully held in different localities with negligible or sporadic violence. This rather seems to be a justification of electoral violence. Moreover, a portion of political leaders and analysts sometimes refer to electoral violence in other countries for indirect justification of it in Bangladesh. Obviously, electoral violence occurs in some other countries including neighboring India with differences in patterns or cultural expressions but electoral violence usually does not occur in many other countries. To me, electoral violence in other countries cannot justify it and undermine the importance of ending it in Bangladesh. Alternatively said, violent free elections are desirable always.
To ensure violent free elections, all election administration-based, political party-based and local/ethnic traditional enmity-based reasons need to be well-addressed. In this respect, strengthened election commission and other election administrators including the law enforcement agencies are needed to ensure violent free credible elections at national, city corporations and local levels in Bangladesh. Besides, strengthened election monitoring is also very important. But, of course, political party-based efforts are more important to ending electoral violence as political leaders and activists created the culture of electoral violence. In this respect, political parties need to address inter-party and intra-party causal factors of electoral violence across the country with inter-party and intra-party measures. To address inter-party causes of electoral violence, it is desired that political parties solve political varied political controversies including electoral systems and the credibility of elections that lead to increased electoral violence in Bangladesh.
Moreover, the ending of inter-party and intra-party electoral violence requires some intra-party efforts especially by those parties whose leaders and activists are involved with electoral violence. In this respect, it is desired that party-based disciplinary measures against those who carry out electoral violence are strongly taken. Moreover, the dissemination of violence-free or peace messages through different tiers of political committees may be given emphasis by political parties across the country. Of course, youth programming by those political parties that carry out electoral violence can also bring some positive changes. No less important is that those candidates and political leaders who are unsupportive to violence should be selected for elections and the party post respectively at different tiers.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Eastern Herald.