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Eager for change, but choosing not to vote

Election headlines in Bangladeshi newspapers. (Usraat Fahmidah/YJI)

Dhaka, BANGLADESH – On January 7th, my routine began as usual, waking up and spending an extra hour in bed 

scrolling through Facebook before having my regular breakfast. 

But that day was also the 12th General Election of Bangladesh. It was the day I was supposed to go out, vote and tune in on TV to eagerly wait for the results.

It was supposed to be a joyous occasion where I got to exercise my voting rights in a functioning democracy.

Surprisingly, none of these activities transpired because I chose not to vote.

Despite being eligible to vote in a national election for the first time, I chose not to visit a voting center, endorse a candidate with my seal, and deposit my ballot in the box. Why? Simply because I believed my vote didn’t matter. 

Whichever candidate I voted for, we all knew the party that was going to be elected, or re-elected for the fourth consecutive term. 

My Facebook newsfeed has been flooded with images of unmarked thumbs, an indication of the fact that most didn’t vote, a visual protest as many perceive the election to be a sham.

It wasn’t a surprise when the newspaper reported the next day that polls saw the second lowest voter turnout in history. The main opposition boycotting the election and numerous ruling party candidates running independently made it clear that despite the relatively peaceful proceedings with minimal reports of violence on Election Day, the election did not demonstrate fairness in the context of a functioning democracy.

That’s why, on this momentous and historic day, my family and I continued with our routine without bothering to tune in to the television for the election results. 

When the ruling party came to power in 2009, everyone I knew had confidently voted for the party – if there was anyone who could steer us towards progress, it was this party. 

The main opposition back then had lost the confidence of its voters. However, as the ruling party wins another five years, the question is if the people still have confidence like they did in 2009? 

The dollar crisis is rendering it unfeasible for businesses to persist, escalating inflation has strangled every middle-class household and corruption is eroding the foundation of this country. The prevailing sentiment among individuals my age is a desire to leave the country for a better life somewhere else. Inequality is increasing more than ever.

I also have no desire to witness the main opposition party taking control. We are well aware of how it would unfold – a recurrence of their violent history.

What I do want to see is change. 

The freedom to express our voices openly, the right to exercise our voting rights, holding those responsible who have corroded the foundations of this country through corruption, seeking justice for those unfairly subjected to injustice, addressing the challenges faced by those who do not benefit from the so-called development – I yearn for change.

In its fourth term, the ruling party has a significant task ahead to earn the trust of voters from Gen Z, including myself. I don’t have confidence in their promises, but I can only hope. This time, I chose not to vote, and I don’t regret it. 

When I was young, I was taught that everyone had to participate and exercise their rights to vote to keep a democracy functioning.

But choosing not to vote this time – to keep from legitimizing this sham election – was perhaps my only chance of exercising my rights for a democracy that we all hope is not dying.

Usraat Fahmidah is a Senior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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