The major flaw in the first-past-the-post electoral system is it never considers the size of voters participating in an election to determine its result. This flaw appears to be a blessing for the just concluded Dhaka City polls recording the lowest ever turnout in the electoral history of city corporations in Bangladesh.
The results show as many as 70 percent voters did not participate in the voting to elect the mayors and councillors. Only less than 30 percent voters exercised their franchise as predicted by the chief election commissioner.
In other city corporation elections held since 1994, the turnout ranged from 60 to 80 percent.
The Dhaka city has been the lone local government body that has witnessed a fast decline in turnout. In the last elections in 2015, the turnout in Dhaka North was 35.87 percent while in Dhaka South the turnout was 48.57 percent. The turnout decreased further on Saturday's polls.
Yet, the election took place on Saturday and it was able to produce results: two mayors and more than 150 councillors. It is because of the flawed system in which the candidates who receive most votes win the race no matter how many votes are cast or whether they receive majority of votes.
Mayors- and councillors-elect will represent hundred percent of voters/population in the city.
The low turnout invited a robust debate: Did it expose voters' lack of confidence in the existing election system and the Election Commission as well?
The debate will gradually die down as happened in the past. The election results, however, enriched the history of abnormal voting that many of us might have forgotten.
We might have forgotten the zero-vote cast election in Sandwip municipality of Chattogram, which still remains as a unique example of our election history.
At the end of 2001, the then ruling BNP men had foiled the election by preventing voters from casting ballots. Not a single vote was cast. The BNP men foiled the polls as none of them was contesting.
Take a few more examples of abnormal voting.
In quest for legitimacy, in independent Bangladesh, both General Ziaur Rahman and General HM Ershad, who seized the office of president unconstitutionally, organised referendums, seeking people's mandate in favour of their regimes.
In the referendum in 1977, Gen Zia was the only candidate and his regime claimed a voter turnout of 85 percent. His regime also claimed that he bagged 99.5 percent of "yes" votes in favour of his rule as president.
We did not have to wait much longer for another farcical referendum. Gen Ershad's regime organised the second referendum in 1985 to legitimatise his takeover of state power. Like Gen Ayub and Gen Zia, Ershad was the lone candidate in the referendum. He claimed to have obtained 94.14 percent "yes" votes in his favour as the president.
Nobody believed the turnout figures in the two referendums. Casting fake votes and stuffing ballot boxes were the main features of the two elections. The credibility of the Election Commission that conducted the referendums reached the lowest ebb.
Before Gen Zia and Gen Ershad, it was Gen Ayub Khan who had invented this model of election.
In the undivided Pakistan, the martial law was declared and Gen Ayub Khan grabbed state power in 1958. He was facing a legitimacy crisis. What he did was a unique model then. Next year, the military dictator introduced the so-called Basic Democracies and banked on the local government to consolidate his power base. Polls to union councils were held and a total of 80,000 councillors were elected. Then he went for a presidential referendum, giving the right to franchise only to the councillors. Ayub was the lone candidate, who claimed to have secured 95.6 percent "yes" votes. He declared himself the legitimate president after the referendum.
However, Saturday's city polls were not comparable with the above four examples of elections which had been held under the regimes of dictators.
We have instances of holding some parliamentary elections boycotted by the major political parties. Even in those elections, the turnout was not so poor like the one in the latest city polls.
Let's look at another example of how an election appears to be more than mockery.
The example of North Korea under dictator Kim Jong-un last year has no match. His regime held the parliamentary election last year in a unique way. His regime made it mandatory for voters to cast votes in the election. But, voters did not have any choice as only his party men were candidates in the polls. So, voters visited the polling stations to drop ballot papers in the boxes in favour of the candidates nominated by dictator Kim's party. The outcome was hilarious.
The turnout was 100 percent and all the parliamentary seats were grabbed by Kim's party. But, voters were forced to feel happy and join the procession to celebrate the voting. Yet, the regime has the pleasure of allowing people to cast votes claiming it a democratic practice. #