Right to Fair Elections & Good Governance
Brotee as an election monitoring agency
In 1996 it was first involved in pre-election survey. From the 2001 general elections Brotee systematically observed every single electoral event, the by-elections, the City Corporation, Pouroshova elections and the Union Parishad (UP) elections. It monitored 19 districts during the National Elections of 2001, 13 districts during the Union Parishad elections 2003, 52 districts to monitor Gram Sarkar process jointly with Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) and Unnayan Samonnoy (US). Apart from these Brotee monitored the different electoral events such as the 5 City Corporation elections in 2002-3. Most recently, Brotee has completed voter list survey in 30 constituencies.
Brotee is also a research organization and is well experienced in the use of various quantitative and qualitative research methodologies. It is also experienced in the use of participatory and anthropological approaches in research. Through continuous efforts of the last few years, Brotee, pre and post tested and standardized its election monitoring tools of inquiry. It has acquired management capabilities and grassroots network which is constantly being reviewed and improved to handle large teams of election observers with ease. It has employed improved monitoring techniques to gather comparatively more ‘reliable’ and ‘traceable’ data. The monitoring approach used in observing this by-election is precisely a result of that experience. This will, hopefully, help contribute to the electoral discourse, effectively, with the sole aim to, one day, eliminate violence and irregularities from the electoral process and, thereby, strengthen participation and democracy in Bangladesh.
Brotee’s study findings showed that during the General Elections 2001, out of the 19 districts 13 experienced violence and in 7 out of the 13 districts vulnerable and non Muslim communities were abused. During the Union Parishad elections 7 out of the 13 districts were particularly volatile where women, tribal and non Muslim communities (as well as communities that are perceived to support an opposing candidate) were found the most abused. Brotee findings from monitoring City Corporation elections in Rajshahi, Khulna and Dhaka (2002) showed that 40 ‘criminals’ (as against newspaper claim of 34) were nominated as candidates by different political parties. Brotee found 17 (also confirmed by newspapers) of them elected.
In the context of politicization and criminalization of local electoral process there is grave concern among citizens that election processes in Bangladesh may become increasingly alienated from the people. The need to improve electoral process goes without saying. Brotee will continue to monitor the electoral process and seek ways to protect franchise of women and the vulnerable groups and push for pro-people policies. An improvement in the participation of these groups will automatically lead to an improvement in the overall voting practices in Bangladesh.
Election monitoring means monitoring pre, during and post election environment. Election monitoring for Brotee is not ‘how fair and free’ the elections were but how much less ‘unfair and less un-free’ elections have been this time and whether there is a downward curve in this trend. A steady downward curve would make the process increasingly acceptable. Any upward trend would naturally throw both the elections and the governments, during whose tenure these events are held, open to question. Hence, for the monitor, objective analysis of the process is much more important than declaring a process free and fair.
Brotee as an organization watching over electoral processes for the last seven years have standardized election monitoring and observation methodology. It has built a database which allows one to assess trends in the process, the obstructing and facilitating factors of participation in elections. It has also designed survey methods to quantify fake votes and errors in voter list. It has formulated operational definitions of electoral violence and irregularities.
Brotee, for the past few years in all its election monitoring reports have been advocating for a strong and independent Election Commission as the fundamental criterion for holding free and fair elections. Today it is one of the most talked about issues. Citizens’ groups, including Brotee, have come together on the urgent need for electoral reforms and have submitted a memorandum to the Election Commission on April 21, 2005, bringing to its notice actions that it can take to foster such reforms.
Strengthening citizens’ watchdog role in electoral process is a means to guard against unfairly held elections. Brotee, through its election monitoring exercises has been building this capacity in different parts of the country which now needs to be consolidated. A nationwide network of election watchdog groups trained to monitor elections, campaign for electoral reforms and undertake voting and community perception surveys are some of the activities that Brotee has already begun.
Brotee has felt the need to take the electoral ‘debate’ to the fields. There is a need to make a shift from Dhaka centered dialogues to field level dialogues between citizens (civil societies) and public representatives where rival candidates sit together and face the public. Such pilot initiatives were taken during pre-election activities to make representatives accountable to people and acquire a practice of listening to what people have to say. This initiative led to better electoral environment in those specific areas. There was less violence.
In recent times, election observers/monitors such as Brotee have raised these issues in different forums on the basis of their observations of the electoral process. The need to improve the governance of the electoral process, strengthen the institutional and technical base to hold truly free and fair elections have now become the crying need of the hour. Holding credible elections is the first step in improving governance and democracy. Hence, Brotee has taken the decision to fix its focus on this one critical issue and work single mindedly not to just observe elections but to undertake nationwide surveys for reliable data and initiate effective campaigns for election reforms.
Brotee observed and monitored the following national and local government elections:
Learning through the process