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Bangladesh Opposition Denies Election Result, Claims Vote-Rigging

Some were told, inside the polling booth, to vote in a particular manner; others were excluded from voting itself.

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Bangladesh, election
Women stand in a line at a voting center to cast their ballot during the general election in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dec. 30, 2018. VOA

While Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is preparing to form a government for a record third consecutive term, her party’s landslide win in Sunday’s general elections has been tainted by violence and allegations of vote-rigging.

After reports began piling up of alleged manipulation of votes and voters, as well as reports of opposition party polling agents not being allowed to enter voting centers by ruling party supporters, the Jatiya Oikya Front (JOF), the largest opposition alliance, has called for Sunday’s election to be declared null and void.

JOF chairman Kamal Hossain said a “vote robbery” had taken place across the country.

“We reject the reported results of this farcical election and are calling for a fresh election under a nonpartisan government,” Hossain said.

The election authority, however, rejected the accusation of vote-rigging and said Sunday’s polling would stand.

‘Cannot conduct another…election’

“Across the country, huge number(s) of people enthusiastically took part in the election in a peaceful environment. The 30 December polling has now made way to the formation of a new government. … No, we cannot conduct another fresh election now. This is no way possible at all,” said Bangladesh’s chief election commissioner, Nurul Huda.

Bagladesh, election
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gestures after casting her vote in the morning during the general election in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dec. 30, 2018. VOA

 

After the Awami League (AL) and its allies won 288 of the 300 parliamentary seats in Sunday’s polling, the election commission said the ruling party would form the government. The main opposition alliance of JOF won six seats.

The country’s first contested election in a decade has been marred by weeks of violence, allegedly unleashed by ruling party supporters, a mass arrest of opposition party leaders and activists, and the deaths of at least 17 people on Sunday.

​The government had promised the election would be free, fair and all-inclusive. Weeks before the election, however, opposition party candidates began reporting attacks by supporters of the ruling Awami League party.

Opposition candidates filed hundreds of complaints with election authorities, alleging ruling party supporters were not allowing them to carry out their campaigns.

Video clips, which claimed to show AL leaders violently threatening opposition party supporters to stay away from polling places, circulated in social media during the run-up to Sunday’s election.

Bangladesh, violence, election
An opposition BNP activist is being arrested by policemen in Dhaka. In 2018, thousands of opposition leaders and activists were arrested in Bangladesh on allegedly trumped up cases of political violence. VOA

 

Allegations of intimidation

The opposition alliance alleged tens of thousands of its polling agents, intimidated by ruling party activists, were forced to stay away from polling stations around the country Sunday.

The alliance also alleged that in the presence of election and security officials, Awami League polling agents and supporters illegally stuffed ballot boxes at many voting centers. One JOF candidate reported that he witnessed AL activists stuffing ballots at a voting center in his constituency. His claim could not be independently verified.

Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir claimed Sunday’s election was massively rigged by the Awami League and the rigging began starting Saturday evening. BNP, the largest opposition party in Bangladesh, is a member of the JOF alliance.

“We were reported (on Saturday night) that police had entered different voting centers, accompanied by Awami League leaders and activists, before leaving the place after half or one hour. In the presence of the election officials, they stuffed the ballot boxes during the night,” Alamgir said.

Senior AL leader Mahbubul Alam Hanif said the charge of rigging was baseless.

“Can they present any evidence of rigging? Can they show any evidence of any booth being captured by force or some people casting votes fraudulently? They cannot present any evidence in support of their charge. Yet, they are claiming that votes have been rigged,” Hanif told VOA.

Bangladesh, election
An opposition BNP activist is being arrested by policemen in Dhaka. In 2018, thousands of opposition leaders and activists were arrested in Bangladesh on allegedly trumped up cases of political violence. VOA

 

Despite Bangladesh’s chief election commissioner saying no to new elections, JOF chairman Hossain said Tuesday that his alliance would submit a memorandum to the election commission Thursday, calling for a fresh election.

In a statement Tuesday, the European Union said that “Violence has marred the election day, and significant obstacles to a level playing field remained in place throughout the process and have tainted the electoral campaign and the vote.” The EU called for “a proper examination of allegations of irregularities.”

Forming new government

Yet AL is also preparing to form the new government, with winning candidates taking their parliamentary oaths on Thursday. An official noted the process would be completed by January 10.

After declaring victory, Hasina said in an address that her aim is to work for the “welfare of the people” of Bangladesh.

bangladesh, election
Salahuddin Ahmed, a Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) candidate for general election, is seen bleeding as he was stabbed on a election day in Dhaka, Dec. 30, 2018. VOA

 

“(Victory in) this election has given me a chance to work for the country for five more years. … I am thankful to all for this,” she said.

Despite the pace of forming a new government, many rights issue groups say the allegations of vote-rigging cannot be ignored.

Iftekharuzzaman (who uses one name), executive director of anti-graft watchdog Transparency International Bangladesh, called for a judicial probe over the reported cases of rigging in Sunday’s election.

“Conduct of fair probe of such incidents by the EC to determine its deficit and making this public are essential in our view,” Iftekharuzzaman told VOA.

Also Read: Bangladesh Prime Minister Wins Another Term, Opposition Rejects Result

“In addition, ensuring justice through a judicial probe of the allegations of immense value for the credibility, self-confidence and public trust in the government, that is being formed in the wake of an unprecedented outcome of an unprecedented election,” he added.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of the international rights advocacy group Human Rights Watch, said reports that people were not allowed to vote as they wished is a very serious allegation.

“Some were told, inside the polling booth, to vote in a particular manner; others were excluded from voting itself. These are all very serious allegations and the opposition is already calling for a re-poll, and the government must address all these concerns as soon as possible,” Ganguly told VOA. “The international community cannot ignore these allegations and should take them seriously.” (VOA)

Next Story

Technology That Allows Real Time Fact-Check May be Here Soon

Adair stressed that his product is nonpartisan. He believes television networks will catch on at some point because they will realize that their viewers want quick fact-checking.

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Trump, Facts
Trump offers 'compromise' to end government shutdown. VOA

A Duke University team expects to have a product available for election year that will allow television networks to offer real-time fact checks onscreen when a politician makes a questionable claim during a speech or debate.

The mystery is whether any network will choose to use it.

The response to President Donald Trump’s Jan. 8 speech on border security illustrated how fact-checking is likely to be an issue over the next two years. Networks briefly considered not airing Trump live and several analysts contested some of his statements afterward, but nobody questioned him while he was speaking.

Duke already offers an app, developed by professor and Politifact founder Bill Adair, that directs users to online fact checks during political events. A similar product has been tested for television, but is still not complete.

The TV product would call on a database of research from Politifact, Factcheck.org and The Washington Post to point out false or misleading statements onscreen. For instance, Trump’s statement that 90 percent of the heroin that kills 300 Americans each week comes through the southern border would likely trigger an onscreen explanation that much of the drugs were smuggled through legal points of entry and wouldn’t be affected by a wall.

 

Trump, fact
Even Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the conservative Media Research Center, concedes that “we all understand that President Trump has a casual approach to factivity.” VOA

 

The Duke Tech & Check Cooperative conducted a focus group test in October, showing viewers portions of State of the Union speeches by Trump and predecessor Barack Obama with fact checks inserted. It was a big hit, Adair said.

“People really want onscreen fact checks,” he said. “There is a strong market for this and I think the TV networks will realize there’s a brand advantage to it.”

Networks mum

If that’s the case, the networks aren’t letting on. None of the broadcast or cable news divisions would discuss Duke’s product when contacted by The Associated Press, or their own philosophies on fact checking.

Network executives are likely to tread very carefully, both because of technical concerns about how it would work, the risk of getting something wrong or the suspicion that some viewers might consider the messages a political attack.

“It’s an incredibly difficult challenge,” said Mark Lukasiewicz, longtime NBC News executive who recently became dean of Hofstra University’s communications school.

Adair said the system will be automated. Mindful that many politicians repeat similar claims, the database will be triggered when code phrases that have been fact-checked before come up. An onscreen note would either explain that a claim is false or misleading and direct viewers to a website where they can find more information, or provide a succinct explanation of why it is being challenged. He envisions an average of one fact check popping up every two minutes. A network using the service would likely air the speech or debate on a delayed basis of about a minute.

Donald Trump, democrats, government,, pakistan
U.S. President Donald Trump. VOA

Lukasiewicz said network executives would likely be wary of letting an outside vendor decide what goes on their screen. Adair said anyone who uses the system would be given veto power over what information is being displayed.

CNN and MSNBC have been most aggressive in using onscreen notes, called chyrons, to counter misleading statements by Trump, although neither did during the border speech. Among the post-speech analyses, Shepard Smith’s rapid-fire reality check on Fox broadcast during the three-minute pause before Democrats spoke was particularly effective. But critics like the liberal watchdog Media Matters for America said anyone who turned the coverage off when Trump stopped speaking was exposed to no questioning of his words.

Complicated, cumbersome

“There is a responsibility to not just be a blind portal and just let things go unchallenged,” said David Bohrman, a former CNN Washington bureau chief who consulted on MSNBC’s 2016 election coverage. “The goal is a good one. The execution is a challenge.”

A technical junkie, Bohrman said he explored different approaches for real-time TV fact-checking while at CNN, but they ultimately proved too complicated and cumbersome.

US Senate
Network executives are likely to tread very carefully, both because of technical concerns about how it would work,. Wikimedia Commons

For networks, an incorrect onscreen fact-check would be a public relations disaster. Politicians also make many statements that a critic might question but isn’t necessarily factually incorrect. For example, Trump’s contention that there is a “crisis” at the southern border: Is that a fact or matter of interpretation?

Rest assured, people will be watching. Very carefully.

Even Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the conservative Media Research Center, concedes that “we all understand that President Trump has a casual approach to factivity.”

But conservatives are deeply suspicious that Trump’s words are being watched more carefully than those of Democrats. They will notice and take offense if Trump is corrected on the air much more than his rivals, he said, no matter if Trump actually makes more false or misleading statements.

Also Read: Technology Makes Home Items Smarter But Creepier

“People aren’t going to trust you,” he said, “because they know what the objective is. The objective is to ruin the president.”

Adair stressed that his product is nonpartisan. He believes television networks will catch on at some point because they will realize that their viewers want quick fact-checking.

“Anyone who criticizes will get criticized for criticizing,” Bohrman said. “But the reality is we may be able to help the viewers.” (VOA)