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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Who gained what?

Update : 01 Apr 2014, 10:19 PM

Three more times in the last three decades the country has seen upazila parishad elections, but the local body polls have never been so important.

Both the ruling Awami League and the BNP-Jamaat-led alliance had their own reasons for taking these elections very seriously.

After having boycotted the January 5 national elections demanding non-partisan arrangements, BNP took these elections as an opportunity to put up a display of its “nationwide popularity.”

So, for the BNP and its allies, the upazila polls were an opportunity to redeem some sort of institutional representation in the country’s governance structure.

For the ruling party on the other hand, upazila parishad polls were an opening on their own to prove that fair elections were possible under partisan arrangements.

The good work that the Election Commission (EC) and the Awami League-led administration did by staging fair elections in the five city corporations last year could have been enough to quash BNP’s claims for non-partisan polls-time government.

This backdrop made the upazila elections, which are essentially non-partisan in nature as parties are not allowed to contest them organisationally, a fully partisan affair with the major parties spending a lot of energy.

The poor performance of the independent and the so called rebel candidates in the five phases of the local polls is also strong enough reason to reinforce the stream of thought that no election in Bangladesh can be non-partisan.

Just like last year’s city polls, the ruling party and the EC could have once again cashed in on these local polls to remind people that they were good enough to stage fair polls under partisan government.

But the party wasted that opportunity as its leaders and activists were largely blamed for the violence, the subsequent loss of lives and vote rigging that media portrayed vividly.

Things went south for the ruling party after the first two phases of the polls when the upazila chairman candidates backed by BNP-Jamaat performed better than those blessed by the ruling party.  That alarmed the Awami League, who was looking to strengthen and reward its grassroots by doing well in these polls. Soon after, the third phase saw a marked escalation in violence for which the ruling party men were largely blamed. Simultaneously, the Awami League-backed contenders started performing well too.

That trend remained unchanged in the next two phases as well, the last of which was held on Monday.

The Awami League might have in the end soared high above its arch rivals in terms of the number of seats bagged by the candidates it had backed – 254 for the ruling party, 164 for the BNP and 36 for Jamaat.

But eventually, the violence and rigging only gave momentum to the BNP’s claim that fair elections were not possible under partisan governments.

Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad, who won a lot of acclaim for staging fair city polls only last year, mysteriously went to the USA on a vacation in the middle of the upazila polls.

That not only gave rise to extensive criticism, but also induced similar speculation about the government’s role and interference with the EC’s work.

Unfortunately, the chaos that the country has witnessed surrounding the upazila polls was surely going to hurt the credibility of the EC’s independence for a long time to come and it would not be easy by any stretch of the imagination to gain it back. 

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