Vote or ‘No’ vote?

December 29, 2008, Dhaka
“Can you tell me what to do? There are three candidates in my constituency, but none of them are any good. I don’t find any reason to go and vote.”
A voice comes to the help of this unhappy voter. “You can still apply your voting rights if you don’t like any of the contestants of your constituency. You can vote ‘No’.”
This is how the Election Commission has been running advertisements on television channels and other media for days to raise awareness about the ‘No’ vote, a first in Bangladesh elections.
But despite the colourful campaign, it appears that some are still not aware of the new provision, while many of those who are aware seem less than keen to make use of it.
Each ballot paper for the much-awaited 9th Jatiya Sangsad election on Monday, alongside with logos with the names of candidates for each constituency, will contain another symbol, a cross, allowing voters to say “No”.
The ‘No’ vote provision is contained for the first time in the newly amended Representation of the People Order: a voter “if he/she does not wish to vote for any of the contesting candidates, shall put the prescribed mark on the ballot paper beside the space containing the symbol for ‘none of the above candidates’ “.
If ‘No’ votes in any constituency register more than 50 per cent of votes cast, the returning officer will cancel the results of that seat and a re-vote will be held. Chief election commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda says the decision to introduce the ‘No’ vote was made considering “citizens rights”.
“In many countries, where the ‘No’ vote is in effect, candidates who are rejected by voters the first time cannot run for the re-vote,” he told, adding that barring the re-vote those candidates maybe considered in the future.
“However, taking into account many considerations, this time round, the rule of barring previous candidates in the re-vote may not be strictly enforced,” the CEC said. In the capital, people from all social strata seem to be aware of the provision, but few appear willing to go for it. “Yes, I know I can vote ‘No’ this time if I don’t like a candidate. This is good, but I will vote for my chosen candidate,” said ‘Khairul’, a rickshaw puller from Mohammadpur.
A retired government official from Moghbazar, Mokhlesur Rahman does not think significant number of people will vote “No”, nor does he intend to.
On the Dhaka University campus, however, a number of students said they would consider voting “No”.
“It’s really an effective tool for us who think there needs to be a change in the political system,” says Muhammad Shoeb, an MA student of the English Department. One of two groups on the ‘No’ vote found on the social networking website Facebook – Say “Yes” for “No vote” – says, “This is an awareness initiative to let people know that we have an alternative in traditional voting system…that we are not handicapped…that we can reject all the candidates in case we don’t like any of them…by casting our votes for ‘NO’.”
While those in favour of the ‘No’ vote appear to be mostly the young, a different sentiment can be seen outside the capital. Rural voters appear less willing to consider the ‘No’ vote and more likely to vote for local candidates.
In Garodaho village in Sirajganj, 51-year farmer says he has heard “something about a ‘No’ vote” but has no clear idea. However, he said, he was not interested in knowing as he would vote for his candidate.
Prof UAB Razia Akhter Banu of Dhaka University’s political science department said she welcomed the provision “as it provides voters with more of a say”. But, she predicted, the ‘No’ vote will not make much impact. “Most voters will choose a candidate, for better or worse.”


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