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     Volume 5 Issue 94 | May 12, 2006 |

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News Notes

MPs Run
Salahuddin Ahmed, a Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) MP, had to run for his life last week when an angry mob of local people threw stones at him in the capital's Shanir Akhra area. People were protesting against an ongoing problem of water supply in the locality, and the MP said he went there to quell protest. The instance of the ordinary citizens expressing their rage against the government's ineptitude is not at all new: memories of Kansat, where 18 people laid down their lives protesting an inadequate supply of power, is very fresh.
Shanir Akhra or Kansat does not come from out of the blue. Anyone who has been going through the current energy and power crisis is going to agree that in the next general elections BNP is going to face a sea of deluded voters, who are angry with the way the party has been handling the problems of their everyday life.
A week after the spontaneous outburst of the people of Shanir Akhra, things continue to be in bad shape. Though the city Mayor Sadeq Hossain Khoka managed to broker peace with the agitating people by assuring them of immediate restoration of water and power supply, nothing of that sort happened in reality. The pump at Paterbagh that produce a significant volume of water for Demra area was fixed following the outrage, but it went out of order on Monday due to disruption in power supply. Several lakh people of the area are still relying on water distributed by the army. Meanwhile local MP's goons are terrorising the Sangram Parishad (SP) leaders so that they stop clamouring about water and power crisis. The situation is such that many of the SP leaders are staying out of their houses.

Numbers of motions on different issues placed by the opposition in the parliament rejected by Speaker Jamiruddin Sircar in one single day. The 227 issues included crisis of water, energy and power and fertiliser crisis; rise of militancy; irregularities in draft voter list and arson at Dr Badruddoza Chowdhury's residence.

The Voter List Controversy
The unusual rise in voters on the draft list published on May 3 has cast a murky shadow over the Election Commission's effort at producing a fresh voters' roll ahead of the coming parliament election. While the news media is abuzz with the inconsistencies that marred the process of making the new list, Election Commission (EC) readily shrugs off all accusations thrown at it. "It's nothing new. Complaints have always been there regarding voter-listing," said Election Commissioner Justice Mahfuzur Rahman on May 7 while talking to reporters.
Mahfuz declined to comment on whether the EC will initiate measures to examine the accuracy of the number of voters on the fresh roll. He said that the media should rather take it up with the secretary of the EC Secretariat. Acting Secretary to the EC Secretariat Mohammad Zakoria refused to talk to the newsmen. It is noteworthy that though there was a High Court directive against it, the EC went ahead and completed a new draft list. While the sharp increase in the electorate has caused an uproar, the secretary at a training programme for the election officers on May 7 defended it by saying that the upward trend in the number of people enfranchised is usual compared to the previous voter rolls.
The draft voter list shows at least 1.11 crore unaccounted for voters if one goes by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) census report completed in 2001. The EC came up with 9.13 crore voters on its draft lists, but the BBS report shows the number of people 18 years and above should not exceed 8.02 crore if no death had occurred during the period and if every person eligible to be a voter is listed. This is one of the reasons that electoral experts and demographers are raising questions about the draft voters' list. The other moot point has been the anomalies in listing in many areas.
However, while a lot of dust has been raised in the public arena regarding the fresh voter roll, Chief Election Commissioner MA Aziz kept mum about the issue. He let the inquiring newsmen know that he was too busy to talk to the press, that too only through his secretary.
Meanwhile, the parliament saw a heated debate on the issue on May 8. Opposition lawmakers demanded cancellation of the "fake" list while the treasury bench asked them to lodge complaints with the Election Commission. The Awami League lawmakers alleged that the draft list contains about two crore "fake voters" and it has been made as part of the ruling four party alliance's "election engineering" to snatch victory in the next general election.

Lawmaker Shahidul does it Again
The government has never had an exactly sweet relationship with the media. It has been whining about the media's 'negative reporting' and intentionally ignoring so many positive stories all around. Some particular ministers and MPs have been more vocal than others when it comes to media bashing. Finance Minister Saifur Rahman, one of the pioneers in media bashing, is on record for making the famous comment--media is the greatest enemy of the country. Among the MPs Prof Shahidul Islam of Kushtia deserves a special mention for his relentless effort of assaulting journalists, physically or verbally. Journalists drew Shahidul's wrath on a number of occasions, specially every time they reported about Shahidul's alleged tender manipulation. His last attack came on daily Manabjamin's Hassan Jahid in a programme in Kushtia. In the graceful presence of Environment Minister Tariqul Islam as well as high official, of the local administration Shahidul sought explanation of a news item from Jahid. But even before Jahid could utter a word Shahidul started yelling at him and hurling all sorts of abusive words, much to the surprise and embarrassment of the distinguished guests present in the occasion. Kushtia Reporters' Unity has decided to boycott news of the lawmaker. Well, that's how they can save themselves from Shahidul's abuses.

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