Popular support for caretaker govtDavid Bergman
A majority of voters, including most Awami League supporters, are against the decision of the government to remove the caretaker government system, according to an international standard election poll that was undertaken in April 2013.
A subsequent poll taken three months later, however, showed a greater willingness on part of the electorate to accept elections under a political government although a clear majority still disapproved.
Constitutional provision for a three-month election-time caretaker government, first introduced in 1996, was removed by the present government in 2011.
Although the BNP has demanded its reintroduction for the forthcoming elections due to take place before 24 January 2014, the prime minister has rejected elections under any government other than the current one.
In the April 2013 poll, 81 per cent of voters, including 62 per cent of the Awami League supporters, said that they were ‘against’ the ‘removal of the caretaker government system,’ with only 15 per cent being in favour of the constitutional change.
When those voters who supported the caretaker system were asked ‘what are the positives of the caretaker government?’ 67 per cent stated that it would ensure ‘neutral and unbiased conduct of elections,’ 42 per cent said that it would lead to the ‘eradication of corruption,’ and 22 per cent that it would ‘care about everyone not just their party.’
When asked what were the negatives of ‘conducting elections under the current government?’ 49 per cent mentioned that it would result in a ‘biased election,’ 38 per cent that it would result in the ‘opposition not participating,’ and 30 per cent that the ‘vote wont be counted fairly.’
Respondents were allowed to provide multiple answers to these questions.
Hostility to the removal of the caretaker system, however, appeared less when voters in the same poll were asked a slightly different question: ‘Do you approve or disapprove of a national parliamentary election taking place under the current government?’ In answer to that question, only 68 per cent disapproved, and 32 per cent approved.
A poll conducted three months later in July 2013 showed that the level of support for political government-held elections had increased further to 41 per cent although a majority, 52 per cent, continued to disapprove.
The poll although continued to show that the strength of feeling against a political government held elections was much greater, with the percentage of those who ‘strongly disapproved’ holding elections under a political government over three times higher than those who ‘strongly approved’ (30 to 9 per cent).
It appears that one reason for the increased comfort with the idea of holding elections under a political government was the victory of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party in the four city corporation elections held in June, one month before the poll was undertaken.
Seventy-seven per cent of those asked about whether these elections helped ‘increase voter’s confidence in elections under the current government?’ thought that they had.
The July 2013 poll also asked voters questions about how personally safe they ‘felt to vote’ under a political government (in comparison with elections under a caretaker government) and found that 53 per cent stated they would either feel ‘not safe’ or ‘less safe’ against a total of 47 per cent who said that they would feel either ‘safe’ or ‘safer’ to vote.
And whilst a majority of voters (51 per cent) felt that their vote would ‘not be stolen,’ 49 per cent felt that this would happen, with 17 per cent feeling ‘strongly’ that their vote would not count.
Despite the concerns held by a majority of people concerning the holding of elections under a political government, the July 2013 polls found that at the same time most people (52 per cent) had faith in the capacity of the Election Commission in ‘holding free and fair elections under the current government.’
Only 32 per cent felt that the Election Commission was ‘not capable,’ with 13 per cent stating that they did not know.
In the earlier April 2013 poll, however, the results suggested that the electorate had more confidence in the Election Commission if it was operating under a caretaker government.
In that poll only 28 per cent stated that ‘the Bangladesh Election Commission will do its job neutrally under the current government,’ with 64 per cent agreeing with the same proposition if it was operating under a ‘non-partisan government system.’
The polls which involved face-to-face interviews with between 2,400 to 2,500 randomly selected people throughout Bangladesh, were amongst a series conducted since the beginning of 2012 by the pollster AC Nielsen as part of the Democratic Participation and Reform programme, which is funded by the American and British aid bodies, USAID and UKAID, and implemented by the international non-governmental organisation Democracy International.
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