Experts: Local govt elections should not be confused with national polls

They emphasise conducting more research on voting behaviour

Experts have said that local government polls should not be confused with national elections even though the recent Narayanganj City Corporation election was an exception.

Their observations on the Narayanganj city polls came at a virtual discussion organised by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) on the subject, “Recent Narayanganj City Corporation polls: The process of electing public representative and experience”, on Saturday.

The underlying problems with the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) system, women’s participation in voting, role of the Election Commission and the government, devolution of power and other issues were discussed on the occasion.

M Sakhawat Hossain, a former election commissioner, said: “The government only cooperated in the local government elections where the ruling party had a winning candidate. There are plenty of elements associated with elections.

“However, the local government polls shouldn’t be confused with the national election since it is a different ball game altogether,” he added.

Laying stress on conducting more research on voting behaviour, he said: “What are the reasons that drew female voters to the voting centres? Peaceful voting or the female leadership of Ivy?”

Local government expert Dr Tofail Ahmed raised questions regarding the reasons behind Selina Hayat Ivy’s consecutive wins in elections.

“She was involved in the civil society movement, has always worked as part of the Awami League and has never been involved in violence. The people of Narayanganj have always been with her. In a nutshell, she has a clean image as a candidate. People always prefer leaders with a visibly clean image of the kind that they associate with her,” said Tofail Ahmed.

Badiul Alam Majumdar, economist and country director of The Hunger Project, said: “Although, the Election Commission played a silent role, the Narayanganj polls wasn’t controlled.” 

“There is a question regarding the confidentiality of EVMs. Since there is no way of conducting an audit about it, we have to believe the information provided by the EC. With such a fragile system,  EVMs shouldn’t be used in the national polls,” said Badiul Alam.

Prof Rehman Sobhan, renowned economist and CPD fellow, said: “When the government is confident of winning an election through their candidate who has a very good record, there is no reason why it (government) cannot be convinced about holding a free and fair election at the local or national level. I would certainly think this government has considerable merits to its performance; this may well be a relevant factor,” said Rehman Sobhan.

“Ivy left us with a lesson that you have to have good and credible candidates who are doing a good job. She has established that if you (public representatives) are with the people, then you can confront all sorts of challenges and get elected,” he added.

The local elections have unique features that can trigger a tertiary reaction and have an impact on the national polls, Rehman Sobhan said.

The renowned economist also pointed out that there has been a serious problem on the question of a devolution of power. “Ivy gave a practical account of the experiences she faces,” he said.

At the event, re-elected Narayanganj Mayor Selina Hayat Ivy shared her practical experiences, noting where she has been facing problems of not being able to control her staff, budgets, having outside institutions interfering and creating problems for her.

“I never like violence and prefer to stay away from it. Instead, I like to work for people,” she said.

Ivy said: “This time the election was tough. The three elections from 2011 have different flavours. In every election I had to face a lot of challenges and had to win through people’s vote.”

Planning Minister MA Mannan said: “The Narayanganj election is another example of the Awami League’s attempt to make democracy integrated and institutional.

CPD Fellow Rounaq Jahan, Member of Parliament Aroma Dutta, CPD Executive Director Dr Fahmida Khatun and many others were present at the virtual event.

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