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The three city corporation elections were not free, fair and neutral: TIB

A TIB report titled Dhaka North, Dhaka South and Chittagong City Corporation Elections 2015: Tracking the Process, released on 18 May 2015 found thatthe 28 April elections to the three city corporations - Dhaka North, Dhaka South and Chittagong – were deeply flawed in term of violation of electoral law, rules and conduct. With violation of permissible campaign spending limits took place at unprecedented rates, muscle and money determined the outcome as the Election Commission failed to create the level-playing field, while election officials including law enforcement agencies failed substantially to discharge entrusted authority and responsibility with impartially.
Releasing the report at it’s head office in Dhanmondi, TIB’s Executive Director Dr. Iftekharuzzaman said the ruling party activists were engaged in vote rigging,occupying polling centre, ballot papers stuffing and different irregularities to ensure victory of their party-backed candidates. The study also found that in some polling centres, even law enforcing agencies directly assisted the ruling party men for vote rigging.
According to the study, there were allegations that some of the mayoral candidates spent money for getting party support for their candidature. It was alleged that the amount the Chittagong City Corporation candidates had to part with ranged from Tk 2 million to Tk 70 million. However, no such allegations were raised in case of candidates for Dhaka North and Dhaka South City Corporation. On the other hand, there were allegations that a section of councillor candidates spent money for getting party backing, which ranged from Tk 200 thousand to Tk 500 thousand, while the amount spent by female councillor candidates ranged from Tk 100 thousand to Tk 800 thousand. Although there were similar complaints against a section of councillor candidates for reserved seats in Dhaka, the amount could not be known.
From the estimations, the report found that all the three mayoral candidates of Chittagong City Corporation had crossed the expenditure ceiling. Of them, one spent the maximum amount of Tk 64.70 million. On the other hand, although the three mayoral candidates of Dhaka South crossed the expenditure limit, one candidate in Dhaka North remained within the limit. It may be mentioned that one mayoral candidate of Dhaka North spent the highest amount worth Tk 36 million, while a candidate of Dhaka South spent Tk 35.1 million. If the average expenditure of mayoral candidates is examined, it is seen that the candidates of Chittagong City Corporation spent Tk 27 million on an average. On the other hand, the candidates of Dhaka North and Dhaka South spent Tk 16 million and Tk 22 million respectively on an average.
The study also found that although the BNP participated in the election, they were deficient in undertaking competitive activities. BNP did not deploy agents or workers despite the environment being peaceful in some instances, opinions of the mayoral candidates were not sought when the decision was taken to boycott the election on the polling day, and it forced the candidates to boycott the election which altogether hindered the election process.
The study also revealed that 58% of the candidates violated the code by offering food and drinks in camps and by giving away gifts and tips. Microphones were used in publicity by 42% of the candidates before and after the stipulated time, and 41% of the candidates used more than one microphone simultaneously. Besides, violations like holding public meetings (40%), showdown during submission of nomination paper (26%), processions cum showdowns with vehicles (23%), offering donations on behalf of candidates openly or in secret (20%) took place contravening the electoral code of conduct.
The findings of the study showed the Election Commission failed to discharge its responsibilities independently  to create equal opportunities for all candidates, due to the lack of firmness in conducting the election, non-application of election law equally for all, and partiality in taking actions for violation of electoral code of conduct. In many instances, the Presiding Officers, magistrates, officials of the law enforcing agencies failed to perform their professional responsibilities. There was also a trend among the candidates to disobey the code of conduct. Crossing the stipulated expenditure ceiling by the candidates and violations of the electoral code of conduct were noticeable. Overall, the three city corporation elections cannot be termed as free, fair and neutral.
TIB proposed a seven-point remedial measures for ensuring a free, fair, and inclusive elections in the future. The recommendations are as follows:
 
     1.The city corporation election laws should be amended and updated that must include the following:
The expenditure ceiling of all candidates should be stipulated under different heads (including electronic and print media);
There should be provision for monitoring the election expenses of candidates during election campaign;
The ceiling of election expenditure should be regularly updated;
The expenditure ceiling of candidates for reserved seats should be specified separately;
There should be provision for the scrutiny of submitted returns on election expenditures by the candidates;
The use of social communication media should be brought under the purview of election rules.
     2.The reliability of information provided in the affidavit of candidates should be ensured by the EC and actions should be taken in line with law in case of deviations.
     3.Modern technology such as use of electronic voting machines (EVM) and close-circuit cameras should be applied for curbing vote rigging.
     4.The scope for discharging responsibility in an environment free from political influence should be created for election officials (presiding, returning and polling officers) and the law enforcement agencies.
     5. Adequate measures should be taken for facilitating easy access of journalists to polling centres and for ensuring the security of election observers.
     6. Qualified people having resolute personality and capable of ignoring political influences and external pressures should be appointed to the EC and
     7. The EC should apply its constitutional powers properly in order to hold free, fair and neutral elections.