The Election Commission (EC) is adamant in its decision to hold elections of 371 Union Parishads, 11 municipalities and several more by-elections to be held on 21 June amid growing corona infection across the country.
However, due to constitutional obligation, the commission has nothing to do with the election of Laxmipur-2 constituency, said EC sources.
Former Election Commissioner Brigadier General (Retd) M Shakhawat Hossain said, "EC's talk about the constitution is nothing but bogus. The pandemic is a crisis caused by nature, not a problem created by man. So, the EC can stop the election if it wants. They have also been given that power constitutionally."
He said, "At a time when the government is struggling to cope with the situation prolonging the lockdown, deciding to hold the polls is nothing but an arbitrary decision. It will put people's lives at greater risk. However, there is pressure of the candidates to hold the election."
"The EC should take the final decision after the end of the lockdown. In fact, election is a burden to them. So, they want to get rid of this burden as soon as possible," he observed.
Noted virologist and member of the national technical advisory committee on covid-19 Professor Nazrul Islam said the corona infection has started to increase again in the last few days. If the growing infections cannot be controlled in the border districts now, it will spread all over the country. So, all kinds of public gathering should be avoided. It should be ensured that no vehicle other than ambulance leaves the districts.
Observing that the pressure of Covid patients was only in Dhaka and Chattogram during the previous two waves of the pandemic, he warned that it would be difficult to deal with the situation if the infection spreads across the country this time.
According to the EC sources, the commission is making overall preparations for the election in the 371 unions. A letter was also issued by the commission on 6 June to keep the overall election activities out of the lockdown, despite the increasing number of infections in the country.
Besides the UP polls, the letter also mentioned about the announcement of election schedule for the parliamentary elections in Sylhet-3, Dhaka-14 and Cumilla-5 constituencies.
Earlier, in a letter issued on 3 June, the commission directed to hold the general elections of 367 union parishads, where election was postponed in the first phase of UP polls, on 21 June. The unions are in 64 upazilas of 19 districts.
In the same letter, the commission also directed to hold the election of women vice-chairman of Fenchuganj Upazila Parishad of Sylhet, vice-chairman of Chilmari Upazila Parishad of Kurigram and general ward 11 of Sunamganj district council on the same date (21 June).
Meanwhile, according to data provided by the government's health department, most of the 19 districts where elections were postponed are currently experiencing high rates of corona infection. As some of the districts are located in the border areas, corona situation in these districts are dominated by highly transmitted Indian strains.
According to the health department's data on Tuesday, Pirojpur district has the highest infection rate of 76%. Elections are to be held on 21 June in 31 unions of seven upazilas of the district.
Border district of Satkhira has the second highest infection rate of 55%. Preparations are underway for the election in 21 unions of Tala and Kalaroa upazilas of the district.
Election preparations are going on in full swing in different unions of the remaining 17 districts. Among the districts, Bagerhat had 38%, Khulna 31%, Jhalokati 31%, Sanamganj 29%, Bhola 27%, Noakhali 22%, Rangpur 16%, Barisal 16%, Narsingdi 16%, Bogura 14%, Chattogram 11%, Gazipur 11%, Madaripur 11%, Cox's Bazar 7%, Lakshmipur 6%, and Patuakhali 3% infection rate on Tuesday.
In this regard, IEDCR Director Prof Dr Tahmina Shirin said, "We have nothing to say about the election separately. However, we have already proposed banning all public gatherings in places where infection rate is high."
"At the same time, it is expected that people of those places will abide by the health guidelines including social distance. At the moment, it is important to raise our awareness besides following the rules of the Public Health Committee," she said.
Election Commissioner Kabita Khanam said, "The corona situation is worsening day by day and it has definitely taken a terrible turn in some places where election is due. There is a commission meeting on Thursday, where a decision on the union council election can be taken."
"But, we do not have the power to do anything about the Lakshmipur-5 election. There is a constitutional obligation to do so," she claimed.
Meanwhile, the Executive Director of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) Dr Iftekharuzzaman strongly criticised the EC for holding the polls amid deteriorating pandemic situation.
He said the EC does not pay heed to anybody's suggestion. It does not consider the needs and concerns of the people. It is going against the public interest.