The widespread violence and irregularities in the 2003 Union Parishad elections frustrated the then chief election commissioner MA Sayed who voiced his anger and concern several times, calling the polls a "futile exercise".
The then BNP government high-ups were not pleased with his remarks as some ruling party MPs in parliament launched blistering attacks on him in an unscheduled discussion and demanded his impeachment.
Incumbent CEC KM Nurul Huda, however, is different from his predecessor MA Sayed in reacting to rampant violence and irregularities in the ongoing UP elections countrywide.
Two weeks ago, he said the Election Commission was embarrassed by the violence taking place during the ongoing polls.
But his concern suddenly disappeared as he on Monday claimed the election was participatory, competitive, festive and peaceful.
Facts do not support his claim, however.
The elections are not participatory by and large. Only one-third of 39 registered political parties fielded candidates in the first phase of the elections held earlier while the number rose to 17 in the second phase held last Thursday.
In two phases, elections to around 1200 UPs were held offering more than 200 UP chairmen elected uncontested denying people the right to vote. The localized intense violence already left around 40 people dead.
Failure to stop violence and electoral irregularities in the first two phases is sure to have an impact on the upcoming polls to the remaining 2000 UPs.
The EC did not come up with any new measures that could ensure that upcoming polls would be free from violence and irregularities.
CEC KM Nurul Huda seems to live in peace and comfort even holding a crucial constitutional office. He seems not to want to annoy the party in power by critical remarks regardless of the quality of the elections.
His strategy is working well. In the last two days since Sunday, opposition MPs in the parliament decried the violence and irregularities in the ongoing polls. But unlike his predecessor MA Sayed, he has yet to face any criticism from the ruling party MPs.
He, in fact, is following the suit of his immediate past predecessor Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmed who led the EC during the 2016 UP elections, also mired in widespread violence and irregularities and recorded as one of the bloodiest polls in the history of Bangladesh leaving around 100 people dead.
Even though the elections turned bloody, then CEC Rakibuddin and his colleagues were happy to comment that elections were free and fair except for some sporadic incidents.
Those UP elections appeared as fresh blows to the country's electoral system that had been seriously damaged in the 2014 parliamentary election and the subsequent polls to upazila parishads, municipalities and three city corporations in Dhaka and Chittagong.
Nurul Huda also led the current EC to hold the December 2018 parliamentary election which was also mired in controversy over fairness.
Yet, a comparison between the past UP elections held in 2003 and 2016 and the ongoing one is a consolation for CEC Nurul Huda. In the last two decades, the only UP elections held in 2009 were by and large free and fair when ATM Shamsul Huda was leading the EC.
The Huda led-EC was also successful in holding a free and fair parliamentary election in 2008 during the non-partisan caretaker government. His predecessor MA Sayed also led the EC to hold a largely free and fair election in 2001.
But Rakibuddin and Nurul Huda led the EC to hold two parliamentary elections in 2014 and 2018 under a partisan government. The way those elections were held was enough to erode the public confidence in the EC and the electoral democracy.
In such a situation, the party in power cannot gain much from the ongoing UP elections though its candidates won most of the chairman posts in absence of its archrival BNP in the electoral race. But the other side is not pleasant either. Intra-party conflict runs high as all contestants are hell bent on winning the polls, resulting in violent incidents and most of those killed were local leaders and activists of the ruling party.
Credibility of the electoral system has further been damaged in the ongoing polls which is a big political loss for the party in power. And this will embolden the opposition parties' arguments that a free and fair election is not possible under a partisan government.
The universally recognised method of election has little in common with the ongoing UP polls. But taxpayers are paying the bills for all expenditures, which may surpass the last UP election budget of Tk500 crore.
The all-important question needs to be answered: what is the meaning of such elections mired in widespread irregularities and violence?
Shakhawat Liton is deputy executive editor at The Business Standard