Bangladesh EC prepares for elections despite Covid surge fear

The Election Commission is still desperate to hold some local body elections and by-elections to a number of parliamentary constituencies in June-July of the year ignoring the request of the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research and local administrations while Covid infections are on the rise in many districts.

The commission in a letter asked the authorities concerned to keep electoral areas of the respective districts out of the purview of ‘lockdown’ to conduct election-related activities without restraint.

The commission sent the letter on Sunday to all deputy commissioners, police superintendents, district election officers, upazila election officers and returning officers concerned, EC officials told New Age, adding that the commission sent the letter just a day after the IEDCR, in a letter, requested the commission to defer the elections considering the Covid-19 situation.

Public health experts said that holding elections would lead to an increase in virus infections and would have public health implications.

They said that India recently experienced huge losses of human life for holding elections ignoring the health guidelines.

‘The authority should stop all such elections. Elections can only be allowed after the infection rate came down to below 5 per cent,’ Rashid-E-Mahbub, chairman of the National Committee on Health Rights Movement, told New Age.

IEDCR consultant and epidemiologist Mushtuq Husain said that the Covid-19 situation had deteriorated in the previous year after some local government polls were held.

The commission should avoid holding polls in this situation because maintaining the Covid health guidelines will not be possible in the electoral areas.

He suggested that the commission and government authority concerned should discuss all circumstances before taking the final decision to hold the polls.                   

Election Commission officials said that deputy commissioners of some districts verbally requested the commission not to hold the polls at a time when the second wave of Covid-19 is sweeping the country.

On June 2, the commission announced election schedules for 371 union parishads, 11 municipalities and the by-election to Lakshmipur-2, Dhaka-14, Cumilla-5 and Sylhet-3 parliamentary constituencies.

Of them, elections to 371 UPs, 11 municipalities and a by-election to Lakshmipur-2 will be held on June 21 while by-elections to rest of the three Jatiya Sangsad seats will be held on July 14.

The election to 371 UPs, 11 municipalities and by-election to Lakshmipur-2 was scheduled for April 11 initially. But the commission suspended the polls following the outbreak of the Covid-19.

About the matter, election commissioner Rafiqul Islam told New Age on Tuesday that the commission secretariat was yet to forward the IEDCR letter to the commission.

‘We have some limitations and we will discuss the issue in the next commission meeting,’ he said.

He also added that personally he was against holding elections during the Covid crisis.

The commission is scheduled to sit on June 10 to discuss different issues including the polls, said an EC joint secretary. 

Transparency International Bangladesh executive director Iftekharuzzaman, addressing a programme, said that the commission never took any move in the public interest and now it is just taking the same old route.

He demanded the suspension of all elections during the pandemic to save lives.

Bagerhat district’s Mongla upazila nirbahi officer Kamalesh Majumdar said that he informed the deputy commissioner of the districts to take necessary steps to stop elections as there was a possibility of Covid-19 situation getting worse.

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