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Foreign observers satisfied over polls atmosphere

Low turnout is a misnomer, says US election observer Jim Bates
Staff Correspondent
07 Jan 2024 17:52:40 | Update: 07 Jan 2024 22:04:55
Foreign observers satisfied over polls atmosphere
— Courtesy Photo

Foreign election observers from several countries and organisations said even though the election turnout was not massive as major opposition parties boycotted the polls, they were impressed by the voting environment, and voters were able to exercise their rights freely.

They conveyed their observations at a media briefing in the capital after visiting several polling centres in Dhaka, Gazipur and Narayanganj. The press Information Department had organised the event.

Addressing the press conference, Canadian Senator Victor Oh said, “We visited a number of polling stations, at least four. We also inspected the counting of ballots. And I would like to say we were given a free hand, a free movement, great conversation, free conversation.

“They are [Election Commission] doing a great job. [They organised] a fair, free and successful election.”

Victor then added, “The question of boycott by a political party is the strategic decision of that political party, which is in their own interest, and it is not our job to comment on the judgment of their political decision.

“With respect to the polls turn out, I have just been informed that the turnout is around 40 per cent.”

Central Election Commission of Palestine Chief Election Officer Hisham Kuhail said, “The voting procedure was excellent, and voters exercised their rights without any fear and barrier.

“What I found is that the process of election was transparent, open and the election officials were efficient.”

Replying to a question, he said, “I do not know about the final turnout. But I observed several countries including Zimbabwe, and compared the countries, the vote was excellent. In Jordan, 33 per cent – 34 per cent turnout was standard.

“Amid the Palestine’s ongoing situation [war], I came here [Bangladesh] because both countries have a good diplomatic tie.”

In the press conference, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Shakir Mahmood Bandar said, “The elections were organised and peaceful. As an observer, I did not see any violence. I am surprised that the city was calm, the streets were almost empty, and shops were closed.”

The heads of the election observation mission from OIC said, “We will submit a report to the Arab Electoral Management Body. We are satisfied with the election environment, and we observed a good election system.”

Replying to a question from The Business Post correspondent, he said, “When we started visiting polling centres in the morning, voters’ presence was very low. It was expected that the turnout would increase gradually.

“But voting is not mandatory. If people decide not to go to voting centres, no one can force them. As it is not mandatory to exercise voting rights, I cannot make any comments regarding the issue.”

Scotland Member of Parliament (MP) Martyn Day, however, said “The turnout was disappointing. It is very low.”

However, he agreed with the OIC and Palestinian observers, saying, “The voting environment was good and voters casted their vote smoothly. As the opposition boycotted the polls, it impacted the turnout.

“But amid the boycott, I did not see any violence and rigging during our visit to several polling centres.”

US Congress Jim Bates, who represented California, District 44 98th-101st (1983 – 1991), said that Bangladesh has the shortest voting hours in the world.

“No country votes as few hours as Bangladesh, so when I keep hearing this turnout and numbers game, it is out of context because Bangladesh votes from 8am to 04pm, and most countries 8 to 6,7,8, or 9pm, and in California they vote for a month.”

He added, “But what I found was very peaceful, free and fair elections. I was also impressed when I learned about the progress. That has occurred with the economy, GDP in per capita is better than India. Bangladesh is the 35th most progressive country, but enough said.

“It is a real honor to be up here. In the nearly ten polling places, I was honored to visit unequivocally, what I saw with my eyes was a free and fair election was an election that was professionally administered.”

Head of the Russian election monitoring delegation Andrey Y Shuvot said, “We are satisfied with the peaceful elections. These polls are legitimate.”