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Democracy assists participatory governance

  • Published at 12:01 am January 1st, 2017
  • Last updated at 06:25 pm January 2nd, 2017
Democracy assists participatory governance

The Narayanganj City Corporation demonstrated once again on December 22 that our citizens, if they so wish, can participate in an electoral process and prove that democracy exists within the framework of this country.

Different quarters had expressed doubt prior to this election about covert politicisation among the officials involved with the election, the negative role to be played by the law enforcement authorities and that candidates not associated with the Awami League would not be able to carry out their campaign peacefully. Fortunately for Narayanganj and for Bangladesh, although there was some tension -- but such anxiety and concern was proven wrong.

It would be useful to refer here to some important statistics as provided by the Election Commission. The total number of voters for the NCC election was 474,931. The total number of general wards within the NCC was 36 of which 27 were of the general category and nine were of reserved category.

The total number of polling centres was 174. These centres had 1,304 polling booths. Out of these centres, 137 were classified by the EC as being of a “risky” nature. The EC, aware of possible disorder took the step of deploying about 9,500 members of the law enforcement agencies to maintain law and order. That included representatives from the police, the BGB, RAB, coast guard, and Ansar.

There was a total of seven mayoral contestants and 156 councillor contestants. The important element in this whole exercise was the fact that the electoral process was participated in by several political parties including the two important political parties -- the AL as well as the BNP.

The other interesting aspect was the fact that the candidates for the post of mayor participated in the election with their party symbol. In the case of the AL, it was the “boat” and for the BNP it was a “sheaf of paddy.” This was done to attract respective party followers to their desired candidate.

Selina Hayat Ivy was the candidate for mayor from the ruling party -- the AL. Advocate Sakhawat Hossain Khan was the mayoral candidate from the BNP.

It may be also mentioned here that the candidate from the main opposition party in the parliament, the Jatiyo Party, dropped out of the race and indicated support for the AL candidate. Similarly, the candidates from the Liberal Democratic Party and the Bangladesh Kalyan Party dropped out of the race and extended their support for the BNP candidate.

At the end of the day, it was announced that the election process had been participated by 296,036 voters casting their vote (about 62.33%).

Selina Hayat Ivy was re-elected to the office of mayor for another five years after receiving 175,611 votes as opposed to Sakhawat Hossain Khan’s 96,044 votes.

Other candidates for the post of mayor from other political parties received all together about 24,380 votes. This reflected the confidence of the people of Narayanganj in her abilities and in her honesty as a politician.

AL-supported candidates won in 13 wards while those with BNP’s endorsement won in 12. The Jatiyo Party and the Socialist Party of Bangladesh also won one post of councillor each. Within the reserved seats category, AL won six seats while the rest three went to BNP backed contestants.

In this context, it would be important to note that the print and the electronic media reported that unlike previous elections in Narayanganj there was no chase, counter-chase, attacks, and examples of vote rigging. There have also been assertions by attending election observers that the election was free, fair, and credible.

There was, however, a suggestion from the BNP losing candidate Sakhawat Hossain Khan that there might have been some errors in the counting process. A senior official of the BNP also suggested that the relevant authorities might consider undertaking a judicial review of the electoral process to ascertain if any wrong-doing or vote-tampering had taken place. Nevertheless, no political party rejected the result of the election. This was indeed an important step forward.

The NCC poll has been a victory for democracy and for that, the present government deserves thanks. However, this has only been the first step

One must admit that Mayor Ivy made a wise move immediately after the election. That reflected sagacity. She visited Sakhawat Hossain’s residence with sweets after her victory was confirmed. Some interpreted this as her way of consoling the loser.

There was, however, the other dimension. One must not overlook the fact that her presence enabled her also to seek her opponent’s pledge to work together with her for the welfare of the people of Narayanganj. This was indeed a good move and a positive gesture. One can only hope that such graciousness would be reflected in other future post-election scenarios.

This latest NCC election has proved beyond doubt that our EC, if it wants to and also receives full cooperation from all the relevant agencies, can hold a free, fair, and credible election. The NCC poll was an overt opportunity for the EC to regain the required credibility that had eroded over the past five years. It was good to see that they seized the opportunity.

This has also consequently opened up a new positive paradigm. It would also be appropriate to acknowledge that such a peaceful election has been possible due to the “good intentions” (as noted by some observers) of the law enforcers to act properly in the absence of political pressure and influence.

One must note here three other aspects.

The first is the commitment and attitude shown by the mayoral candidates while they were canvassing their positions on issues in the weeks before the election. That was a lesson in grassroots political inter-active engagement.

The second important factor was the winner’s connectivity with the female voting population. The media reported that women voters in particular, turned up in great numbers and underlined the fact that the winner had inter-actively engaged with them during her previous term in office.

The third element that emerged from the electoral exercise was that despite the large gap in numbers related to the election of the mayor, the BNP did very well with regard to election to the post of councillors.

That demonstrated that they still retain some of their grassroots support. They need to have more faith in themselves, in the existing political process and engage with their supporters within the rural matrix.

They need to do this instead of relying on outside support from foreign friends. This has assumed particular importance given the fact that the next parliamentary election is only a little more than two years away -- boycotting the next general election would be a major mistake.

The NCC poll has been a victory for democracy and for that, the present government deserves thanks. However, this has only been the first step.

This has also raised expectations among the citizens. One can only hope that in the coming weeks it will be positively reflected in the complex process of selecting the suitable relevant officials and reconstituting the next EC.

If all concerned actors in this exercise play their desired role with confidence, we will then have a future free from intrigue, violence, and negative branding of our country.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador and Chief Information Commissioner of the Information Commission, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.