USING publicly available election data, we have been analysing the results of past three elections, with the first analysis already published on December 4.
Since the publication of that piece, we have been repeatedly asked two questions: why analyse the results of the past elections when they are part of history, and why has no one done this analysis until now when the data have been there for anyone to use?
As it happens, after discovering the data, it is these same questions that have prompted us to publish this analysis just before the next election. Analysis of past irregularities is important because they will help with a better election process in the future. Unfortunately, this analysis can be done only after a significant period of time following an election, because it takes a long time for the polling centre level election data to become available in the public domain. By the time the data become available, the newly elected government is already settled in, and analysts become apathetic to analyse the anomalies of past election data when such analysis runs the risk of destabilising the incumbent government. This may be one reason why no one has highlighted this before.
Ideally, the Election Commission should put the election data online as they become available so that they can be scrutinised before the new government takes office. We hope that this is something the commission will look into during the coming election. In the meantime, it is still important to highlight past anomalies so that they are not repeated. What is a better time for this than during the lead up to the next election, when everyone is paying attention?
There may be another reason why political parties do not come forward with factual data to challenge the final election result (even as the losing side almost always reject the result as rigged) — to some extent, all parties benefit from these irregularities.
Let’s focus on the particular irregularity of incredibly high voter turnout. Officially, the number of supplied ballot papers cannot exceed the number of registered voter in any given polling centre. Therefore, a more than 100 per cent voter turnout can only indicate a post-ballot count manipulation. While in theory, the turnout can reach up to 100 per cent, in practice a voter turnout significantly higher than the national average can be viewed with suspicion. In practice, a turnout of over 95 per cent is very likely to reflect irregularities.
Let’s now look at who benefited from these anomalies in 2001. In that election, there were 111 centres with over 100 per cent turnout (in some cases there were over 200 per cent turnout). Of these, the BNP-led Four-Party Alliance won 69 against the Awami League’s 35. In addition, in 189 centres, the turnout was between 95 and 100 per cent, with the centres shared by all major parties. As shown in Table 1, while the Alliance candidates benefited the most, the League was hardly without blemish.
Since excess ballot is not possible, high turnout in practice points to a post-ballot count manipulation. While the centre level inflated results cannot be traced in final results due to lower turnover in other polling centres, this irregularity puts the reliability of the ballot counting process in doubt. If it is possible to change the results of one polling centre after the ballot count, it puts a question on the whole system.
To the extent that the irregularities reflect post-count manipulation, the ultimate responsibility accrues to either the presiding officer or the returning officer. At the polling centre level, the ground reality has often been that the electoral officer is intimidated by the polling agents of both formal party nominees as well those of independent dummy candidates. Recent electoral changes have sought to make such intimidation harder. Analysing the post-election data will tell whether they have been successful. But if this can be changed at the hands of the returning officers, the scenario can become more complex. A candidate can manipulate the results of most centres to win, and still can share the blame by making the opponent win in few insignificant centres.
While incredibly high voter turnout is a sign of electoral fraud, appallingly low turnout may also point to irregularities. In the context of alleged deprivation of minority groups from casting their votes, our analysis shows very low voter turnout in many minority areas including the Chittagong Hill Tracts. We will discuss this in the next part of our analysis.
1. A discussion on the electoral changes when they were first announced is available here: http://unheardvoice.net/blog/2007/05/26/reforms-to-electoral-laws/#more-10