Numbers tell a unique story of our electoral democracy at the grassroots.
More than 77% voters entitled to exercising their franchise to elect a mayor and over four dozens of councillors to constitute the Chattogram City Corporation did not turn up on Wednesday.
By refraining from joining the "festival of democracy", they made the port city set an unprecedented record: the lowest ever turnout in the two-and-a-half-decade history of city polls in Bangladesh.
The record book of city corporation elections was opened in 1994 with holding polls to four city corporations – Dhaka, Chattogram, Rajshahi and Khulna. In those polls, Rajshahi recorded the highest voter turnout with 80.30%. Turnout in other three cities was in between 54% to 63%. Chattogram recorded 59.31% voter turnout.
The trend set up in the maiden city polls continued for the next two decades. But, the situation took a different turn since 2015 when elections were held in two Dhaka city corporations and in Chattogram.
The BNP boycotted the polls in the middle of voting, raising allegations of electoral frauds by the ruling party men.
Of the city corporations, Dhaka North recorded the lowest voter presence with only 37.29% while Dhaka South saw 48.4%. At that time, Chattogram saw a moderate voter presence of 47.9%.
But, in Wednesday's polls, the port city not only unset its previous voter turnout records, it also dragged its record down to a new low.
Yet, the corporation will be constituted with those elected regardless of the percentage of votes they obtained in the polls as there is no legal bar in the electoral system of the first past post.
The question is: Does such a low turnout match with the spirit of the constitutional provision that speaks for democracy and human rights?
One of the fundamental principles of the State policy as stipulated in Article 11 of the Constitution is that the Republic shall be a democracy in which effective participation by the people through their elected representatives in administration at all levels shall be ensured.
The city corporation, the most important organisation in the urban local government system, is supposed to work for city dwellers as an important service delivery body.
Does large-scale non-participation in the election to constitute the corporation give a signal that people are not interested in the services delivered by a city corporation?
There are many reasons behind people's lack of interest in the city polls held on Wednesday.
Chattogram City Corporation, like the others in the country, could not deliver on people's expectations and also on their mandates.
Take the century old story of Chattogram City Corporation which descended from the name of Chittagong Municipality founded on 22 June 1863.
When it was formed first around 1,578 years ago, one of the perennial problems the then city was facing was water logging.
Records show that a committee for the sanitary improvement of the town of Chittagong was formed, before the registration of the municipal board, for the development of public health and communication. The first seminar of the committee was organised on 14 May 1856 in the office of the divisional commissioner. In the first seminar, water drainage was the main subject of discussion.
In 1977, Chittagong Municipality was renamed as Chittagong Paura-Shava which was upgraded to Municipal Corporation in 1982. Later on 31 July 1990, it was renamed Chittagong City Corporation, which saw its first election in 1994.
In the latest polls, a major pledge made by the mayoral aspirants was resolving the waterlogging problem facing the port city. The same promises were made by the candidates in the previous elections too. City residents have not held them accountable for their failure to deliver on the promises as they could not do it in the past because of a lack of political powers.
Point to be noted that when other public organisations do not function properly, people remain powerless politically in a democracy. In such a country, only electoral democracy makes much noise.
So, politics is another element that can be blamed for people's lack of interest in the latest election.
Local ruling party men contesting the polls were desperate to win the battle of ballots to grab the mayoral and councillor posts by any means caused deterioration of the law and order situation in the election.
The local administration engaged by the Election Commission to conduct the polls could not rise on the occasion to ensure a free and fair election. The role of the law enforcement agencies during the polls has also been questioned.
And because of the partisan political culture, the Election Commission, a constitutional body tasked with holding and supervising the conduct of the polls, could not discharge its duties due to a lack of competent leadership.
The first two phases of staggered municipality elections held in December and mid-January were also marred by violence and various electoral irregularities and low presence of voters.
Yet, the Election Commission is happy with the results.
The sum up of everything is that the outcome of the port city election set a new low of people's participation in which all posts were captured by local ruling party leaders.