Get ready for December 30

Mahfuzur Rahman
Thursday, November 26th, 2015

Hot on the heels of three city polls, the Election Commission is now honking the horn for elections to 234 municipalities. The city corporation elections held on April 28 in Bangladesh this year had been much of a barn-burner — at least during the electioneering. And the country is again heading towards more local body elections — municipality polls — on December 30 next. These elections are expected to add some more spark to the national politics for its quasi political make-up. So, it is time for the electorate to get educated — if not excited — because these are going to be the most consequential elections in the country’s history. All signs surely point to a wild and wooly elections.


With the announcement of the schedule for elections to the 234 municipalities, the country’s political landscape has started heating up. Though the people of Bangladesh nurture huge enthusiasm about elections, no matter whether those are local or national ones, the country’s election system has yet to take the institutional shape as it is always vulnerable to violence, fraud, manipulation, intimidation and other regularities one can name. The announcement of the election schedule has enthused the ruling quarter more than any others because they are better prepared for it. They are happy thinking that they will be able to harvest better since BNP looks unable to come up with an effective election strategy to put up a strong fight.


Having failed to stage a comeback to the political landscape following its failure in its two successive movements in 2014 and 2015, the BNP of Khaleda Zia finds it hard how to put its house in order. The party rank and file is now demoralised as there is no sign in sight that it can bounce back. More importantly, the successive election boycotts by the party have, in fact, dampened the spirit of its midlevel leaders and grassroots workers, exposing that it has lost the strength to fight back though it claims that it has a greater popularity than the ruling Awami League.


Press reports have already made it clear that Jatiya Party (JaPa) of former military ruler HM Ershad is ready to join the municipality polls with its leaders saying that are going to fight the elections independently as they want competitive polls. They have also collected the lists of possible candidates by the time.


Despite having its worry about overall polls atmosphere, the BNP is also silently getting ready to join the elections. But, the civil society members and BNP leaders are not happy the way the election process is moving on. Local government experts are of the opinion that the government decision to go to the polls with a halfhearted dual system is unlikely to yield any positive result.


They fear that holding the elections in a hurried manner without having a concrete decision in place will spark off violence as the latest amendment to a local government law allows only the chairman and mayoral candidates of municipality elections to be in the race with political identity but the councilor candidates will not be able to avail of using the party symbols. Political observers think the administration risks violence if the elections are held with the amended two rules, an argument turned down by the ruling party leaders.


Awami league leaders think there is no possibility of violence during the election as the law-and-order situation across the country is now much better than any time before. They say that everything is now under good control of the government as it has been able to rein in the troublemakers after the so-called 92–day movement of the opposition and the government will in no way allow these bad elements to raise their ugly heads again.


Right after the announcement of the election schedule by the Election Commission, BNP leaders at a press briefing aired an apprehension that the municipality polls are unlikely to be fair as those are going to be held under halfhearted party banners. In support of their contention, they said local body elections in recent years were not credible when those were held in an apolitical manner. As this is going to happen on party line partially there is no chance of fair voting as the government will try to get the ruling party candidates win the elections. So, they said, the municipalities which are now on stake for the polls are set to see widespread violence because of the government’s lackadaisical rules.


Political analysts insist that the BNP should not boycott the elections this time even if there are ‘provocations’. Boycotting the elections, they argue, will create a skewed situation across the political spectrum, which will only dampen the spirit of the electorate. The opposition political parties should be in their election race, no matter what. Any further election boycott will set them, particularly the BNP, on a course for oblivion.


According to the political observers, the upcoming municipality polls are also a test for the Election Commission and also for the administration to prove that they are creating a greater political space for all and thus helping the country’s nascent democracy to take its natural shape. Though the Commission has already announced that it will be tough enough to ensure the security of voters, opposition political parties has not taken it into confidence as they always accuse it of playing a biased role.


Given their previous records of whimsical political decisions, local government experts and civil society members said the opposition political parties should join the December-30 municipality elections to help restore the election mood of the nation. Maybe the upcoming election will also see the same irregularities as we saw in the past, but the participation of all political parties will help the electorate to refresh their mood. A ruined or immature election system, they think, cannot be fixed overnight. Election irregularities are part of political reality. Vote fraud and irregularities are also reported from mature and developed democracies.


To put in place a sustainable and credible election system, our political parties need to work hard from their respective positions with their undivided focus on the Election Commission. At the end of the day it is the Election Commission which holds elections. After all it is the Election Commission that builds an all-acceptable election system in cooperation with the political parties. There should be faith that you can use institutions in order to affect the political culture. Institutions themselves can shape political culture.


More importantly, local government institutions can be the driving forces for bringing about the much-sought change in our political culture. Local governments should be used for political change because they are the wheels of democracy.


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