'We may use the army, if needed': Bangladesh EC secretary

Jahangir Alam says the BNP’s decision to boycott is not right

40-Jahangir-Alam Jahangir Alam | Mandira Nayar

Interview/ Jahangir Alam, secretary, Bangladesh Election Commission

Nirbachon Bhavan, the headquarters of the Bangladesh Election Commission in Dhaka, is gearing up for the most-watched elections in recent times. There are 2.63 lakh polling booths and over 42,000 polling stations across the country. Come January 7, Bangladesh will come out to vote and the results will be declared the same day. “It is a festival day,’’ says Jahangir Alam, secretary of the Commission. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Q/ You have many international observers this time.

A/ We have sent requests to friendly countries to send observers to come and see the election process. We have 181 foreign observers and 67 foreign journalists, who have registered themselves. Teams from the European Union and the Commonwealth will come. Also, teams from Japan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Nepal and Bhutan want to observe.

Q/ The elections will be held using paper ballots.

A/ Yes. We will use paper ballots and ballot boxes. In the 2018 elections, we used electronic voting machines in six constituencies. We do not have the capacity to hold elections with EVMs at one [go] because of the size of the population and the shortage of machines.

Q/ There are concerns about a low voter turnout.

A/ In the latest local elections, the turnout was around 70 per cent. In the national elections, the turnout is sometimes low. In local body elections, the candidate himself is interested in getting voters to come out to vote. The candidates live in the villages and there are four or five candidates per seat. In the national elections, there are only one or two or maybe five candidates, and it is not possible for them to reach all the voters. The young voters are sometimes not interested to go out and cast their votes.

Q/ There has been violence in the past during the elections.

A/ The elections will be peaceful. We have already deployed a huge number of law enforcement personnel. We may take the decision to use the army or others forces in the polling stations.

Q/ What are the biggest challenges that you face in organising the elections?

A/ A big opposition party has declared that it will not participate. So that is a big challenge. They are saying that they will create obstacles. To deal with that, the government and the Commission are working together.

Q/ How do you view the BNP's refusal to participate?

A/ It is their decision. We have tried several times to have a dialogue. They have not responded.