Bangladesh

Local govt elections: A question on accomplishment

elections

Mir Mosharref Hossain Pakbir

MNA Editorial Desk: The recent politics of Bangladesh is having an election-centric vibe while we are quickly approaching the national polls scheduled for end of this year and also five city corporation elections slated to be held prior to this. Both the ruling and opposition parties are considering these city corporation elections as the dress rehearsal of the 11th general election and putting high emphasis on the likely outcome. In spite of huge differences in the form, importance and style between local government and national elections, the rivalry, mass communication and election-oriented activities are in full form for these CC polls.

From the beginning of 2018, we have found the top political parties — ruling Awami League and main opposition BNP — highly active focusing on the national election. The ruling party, (AL) wants to retain power and governance for the third consecutive term which is very rare in the political context of Bangladesh though the huge development works and multiple achievements of the current government always make them eligible for that chance.

On the other hand, the largest opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) wants to come back to power of the state in the name of ‘restoring democracy’ as their existence is under serious threat with its Chairperson Khaleda Zia spending time in prison following her five-year conviction in the Zia Orphanage Trust corruption case while their acting chairperson, Khaleda’s son Tarique Rahman, is also convicted for 10 years imprisonment in the same case. But he is still not in prison because he lives in exile in London for almost ten years now and Bangladesh is yet to get him back home despite years of failed trying.

Both the parties are trying to boost their respective popularity but the balance being still heavily in favour of the AL, election watchers and political experts say. And, the BNP despite trying to boost their activities is yet to create a concrete base in the run up to the polls or on any aspect.

In this scenario, BNP seems to be very serious to prove their mass popularity through the upcoming city corporation elections. They have already placed several demands to the election commission, many of which like; demand of army deployment, are not actually applicable for local government elections. BNP is actually trying to promote a scenario of mistrust over the EC by putting forward these demands and that may form the crux of their political agenda.

On the other hand, AL is also focused to emphasize their mass popularity through these city corporation elections while they will also try to promote the transparency, efficiency and effectiveness of the election commission. These parties are approaching these polls with their own agendas but unfortunately the welfare of people does not seem to be of any concern.

The political parties can never deny the responsibility of nominating a good candidate to become the representative of the people. They must trace out leaders, who are honest and committed to people’s welfare, to place them as electoral candidates. But in this city corporation polls also, we are finding this trait missing from the political parties as already reports of corruptions have come into media of several candidates. The candidates themselves are throwing mud at each other for the sake of gaining political edge prior to the elections. Though this has become the general characteristics of Bangladeshi politics now-a-days, the ultimate loser in this process is the people and it is almost impossible to bring greater benefits for them by any corrupt and uncommitted leaders.

Till 2015, the local government elections were fought through non-party candidates and symbols. Though the political parties backed certain candidates but there was no direct involvement of these parties in the local government election. That process actually enabled the political parties to bring in candidates with good mass acceptance.

Moreover, these past local government representatives, though belonged to certain political parties, had a higher personal image and mayors, union parishad chairmen and members, ward councillors had their names established as people’s representative rather than being labelled as any political party leaders. Their fame and acceptance was much greater. People put their faith on these leaders as they were beyond the sphere of political identities. They also had the urge to satisfy the needs of the people rather than that of their parties. But the situation is very different now.

In 2015, a law was passed which enabled the local government election to be held under the party banners and symbols. It actually pushed the candidates to be more party oriented and gave the party leaders and activists an edge in the nomination process. It actually closed the doors for good candidates who are truly committed to the constituency, society and nation to compete in the elections as the influence of the big parties offset their possibilities to bring a positive outcome in the elections.

Moreover, the administration and law enforcers in favour of the ruling party create such a strong barrier in the election that any candidate with no strong political party backup cannot even participate in the elections. The activists of large parties also do not allow the honest candidates to create any field. Now the local government election has become a fight of the parties rather than fight of the candidates. We now cannot even remember the names of different city corporation mayors as we only remember if he is from Awami League, BNP or Jatiya Party.

Hence, the local government elections have now become the showcase of the popularity of the political parties only. The party leaders put on a great fight to earn the party nomination as that plays a vital role to drive the results in their favour. Receiving the nomination is also a system fully surrounded by corruption as one needs to quench the thirst of the central party leaders to earn the nomination.

Moreover, display of power, muscle power and terror has become a common issue. Criminals and corrupt leaders have become popular choices for the parties as they can manipulate the outcome of the elections through their money, power and terror. So, from a wider viewpoint, the local government election under the party banner has completely eliminated the focus on people’s welfare and has become a demonstration of party strength only.

This culture has also tarnished the involvement of the general people with their leaders. Even a decade ago, we have seen many chairman or member candidates participating in the election on their own expense with an urge to serve the people. They even lost all their assets serving people. But now the commitment is only towards the party and if elected, their assets increases as a result of political corruption.

Non-cooperation has emerged as a virus in local government. The candidates who are elected from the opposition parties do not receive any cooperation from the administration. They are often harassed by the law enforcers without any good reason. These opposition leaders also take the opportunity of promoting such discrimination to gain political advantage while they often blame this non-cooperation for their failure to do something in people’s favour.

When the local government elections were not conducted under party banner, this scenario did not exist. But in this current scenario, though the city corporations and local government entities have their own budget, collections and allocations, there is no benefit of electing a BNP candidate while Awami league is the ruling party and vice versa from the people’s perspective.

Almost in every local government elections now, several complaints of code of conduct violation are filed. This time also we have seen such complaints on party top leaders’ involvement in the campaign of mayoral candidates. But if the elections are conducted under the party banner, then it is very usual that the party top leaders will get engaged in the campaign and nothing is there to complain about it.

The political parties and their candidates are completely working and campaigning based on the party agenda. The opposition tends to boycott the election in the middle as part of their party decision. The ruling party aligns their promises with the commitments of their local government election candidates. No campaign is actually focused on the issues of people’s welfares. In the current system, we are unable to get out of the political influence to work in local government levels. Hence, the efficiency and effectiveness of the mayoral candidates are limited to the context of earning the party nomination only.

To bring in positive change in favour of the people, the local government elections as well as the local government bodies should be kept out of political parties’ influence. If that is not done, it seriously impacts the quality of local governance and the citizens suffer. Honest, capable and acceptable candidates must receive the equal chance if we need to approach Vision 2021 and 2041 in a fast pace as without efficient performance of the local government bodies, it is not possible to take the whole country forward.

Bangabandhu’s dream of ‘Golden Bangla’, a dream strongly chased by his daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, requires collective development throughout the nation. Effective local government can work as the driving force to achieve most of our goals as well as to ensure people’s welfare. Hence, we hope the decision makers will take steps to keep this area out of influence of political parties — a decision which will definitely go in favour of the people.

The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA) and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)

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