Winning ticket at the ballot box will need backing from under-30s
With the 11th parliamentary elections just three and a half months away, the Awami League is focused on winning over swing voters and the youth.
This year alone, the last of its five-year term, the Awami League-led government has faced two major student movements – one since February seeking reformation of the existing quota system in government jobs, and the other in August demanding safe roads across the country.
Senior leaders of the party and the 14-party alliance said some of the Awami League’s affiliated organizations were more aggressive than law enforcement agencies in attempting to quell the movements.
They worry that this may lead to losing the support of young and new voters.
The government has pledged to meet all the demands of the students.
But the youth, mostly students of schools, colleges and universities, remain resentful of ruling party activists’ activities during the movements.
Quota reform movement activists, who have been on the streets since February, say their demands have yet to be met.
Around 23.5 million young voters, mostly university students or job seekers registered since 2008, will cast their votes in the upcoming general election, according to the Election Commission, which plans to hold the vote in the last week of December.
Speaking with the Dhaka Tribune, several leaders of the Awami League’s Central Working Committee and the 14-party alliance have expressed worries regarding these voters, saying that the government and the coalition are yet to take any effective measures to calm their agitated minds and minimize the damage caused by the unrest.
However, they could not specify what steps would be effective.
‘We can’t ignore their emotions’
Social Welfare Minister Rashed Khan Menon, who also heads 14-party alliance member Bangladesh Workers Party, told the Dhaka Tribune: “We have to admit that the government’s role during and after the road safety and quota reform movements have hampered the ruling alliance’s image among the young and new voters.
“Because of the roles we played, these voters may turn their backs on us. We cannot ignore their emotions. We must take appropriate steps to have them trust us and vote for us.”
He said that the family members of these young voters may also oppose the idea of the alliance’s return to power.
Menon urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, also the Awami League chief, to take necessary steps to resolve these issues as soon as possible.
Other ruling party leaders brushed off his concerns, claiming the people would definitely vote for the Awami League on the strength of its development work over two terms that have spanned a decade.
They said some opposition forces would try to use these recent movements against the government.
The party’s Presidium Member Pijush Kanti Bhattacharya echoed their remarks, saying: “Awami League supporters will never ever vote against the party.
“But the young and swing voters will decide after considering the country’s development. Hopefully, they will vote for Awami League in the upcoming election as we have initiated hundreds of projects aimed at Bangladesh’s progress.”
‘Young people have many expectations’
Talking to the Dhaka Tribune, Awami League Presidium Member Muhammad Faruk Khan also said: “I hope young people, who have many expectations, will vote for Awami League again to build a prosperous country imbued with the Liberation War’s spirit.”
The former civil aviation and tourism minister said that the youth had many expectations and the government was working to fulfill them.
“However, it is a matter of great hope for us that around 23.5 million young Bangladeshis are registered now as new voters who will cast their ballots in the upcoming election,” he added.
Election experts and observers say that these 23.5 million new voters will play a crucial role in the next polls in choosing the next government.
They said that young voters, particularly first-timers, are proactive and their preferences could sway the election results very easily.
Aged between 18 and 28 years, this group constitutes a major part of the total 104 million registered voters. Their votes may become the deciding factor if voter turnout appears to be low like the 2014 election, which was 51.37%.
According to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) data, around 30% of total population of the country is aged between 18 and 30 and around 15% of the total voters are between 18 and 24.
There are nearly 50,000 youths who will cast their votes in each of the 300 constituencies, effectively playing the key role in deciding the fate of the lawmakers.