At long last, Bangladesh has witnessed a relatively fair ballot, albeit in a local government body of Narayanganj City Corporation. This was the last major assignment of the current election commission set to expire in February 2017.
But, sorry gentlemen, chief election commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad and four other commissioners cannot be thanked for this apparently non-violent voting on 22 December 2016.
After all, the Narayaganj episode was possible, thanks to political calculations in the ruling camp. Had the Awami League candidate for mayoral post lost the electoral battle, it would not have dealt any political blow to the incumbents.
And in this case, they knew very well that Selina Hayat Ivy had a bright chance of winning and in case of her loss, a presumably lower margin could have been considered next to victory. An Ivy loss could still have ensured a political resurgence of her rival Shamim Osman when the BNP candidate, Sakhawat Hossain Khan, had he won, was a political outsider.
So, returning to power through controversial elections in 2014, the AL has enjoyed the most favoured atmosphere in years to apply a choice of fair polls in Narayanganj. Ivy herself called on the EC to hold a fair election, as, she said, its outcome would not change regime. The job of Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmed (KRA) and Co, which proved its bankruptcy in all recent local government elections, was simple -- just like a post office.
His optimism that the NCC election would be an example of fair polls for future has been confirmed by pro-government or pro-AL elections monitors who came up with all appreciation after the election results. The KRA & Co's earlier claim of presenting the nation a "model" through this election is simply not tenable.
How far the polls atmosphere was fair for all concerned remained a question that was not adequately answered by the election commission. The opposition BNP's Sakhawat alleged an atmosphere of 'fear' and 'influence' and Rakibuddin's people had no explanation for that.
When a police officer warned of shooting at sight on miscreants, when such jurisdiction is of a magistrate, what kind of message did that give to the opposition campaigners? On the voting day, according to on-duty reporters, those who were most visible on the streets or near polling stations were definitely not the supporters of the BNP.
Other than the election commission and the government, nobody knew what would have been the 'required' role of the commission, had the NCC election been a politically deciding contest between the two contenders for power.
The commission did not need to show strength and courage against the strongmen of the ruling camp in Narayanganj. In fact, Ivy herself was at the receiving end of terrorism -- one of the victims of seven murders was her councillor and the father of slain youth Taqi is known to be her ally. Sakhawat is a lawyer who was vocal about the murders from the beginning of revelation of the incident.
Much to the advantage of the commission, it was a battle of confusion for the BNP, more so when the AL chose the one whom it renounced in the past election -- Selina Hayat Ivy. The BNP withdrew from the 2011 race to see Ivy defeat Shamim Osman.
Still, the commission did not react to the 'heroic act' of on-camera voting by Shamim Osman, an AL member of parliament from Narayanganj.
The commission perhaps forgets that the Representation of People Order 1972 clearly speaks of "secret ballot", emphasising arrangement to be made by the presiding officer for the electors to mark the ballot paper in secret. Article 23 of the Local Government (City Corporation) Election Rules 2010 says that the election shall be held through secret ballot or, depending on circumstances, through Electronic Voting Machine (EVM).
The outcome of NCC polls has certainly given Rakibuddin and his four colleagues the occasion to end with a happy note. "All's well that ends well", at least for those they served! Their last ritual further proved that an AL candidate, too, could overcome an electoral race in today's Bangladesh even if the voting is somewhat fair.
For sure, the Rakibuddin-led commission will be remembered for their key performance -- holding of one-sided election on 5 January 2014 and showing a 40 per cent turnout whereas the voting day reality told all a completely different story. They reconfirmed what they are, in the subsequent local government elections plagued by violence, killing, rigging and manipulation.
Therefore, for free, fair inclusive and credible national election in future, the country needs a clear departure from the history of an election commission like theirs. They, however, are leaving one important lesson: people with self-respect and integrity are required in such positions.
Khawaza Main Uddin is Head of Prothom Alo English (Content). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.