Right now, local elections are problematic, to say the least
Using party symbols in local government elections is tested at the union parishad, municipality, and city corporation elections -- and now at the upazila parishad elections. The results have been mixed.
In the case of urban local government elections, ie municipality and city corporation elections, it seems, to a great extent, suitable. On the other hand, in the rural local government elections, ie union parishad and upazila parishad elections, it is not as suitable.
It is, however, not utilized in the election of the zila parishad. To test the model in the zila parishad elections, first we need to turn to the citizenry voting system used in basic democratic styles of elections.
In the upazila parishad elections, there remains an unresolved question: While the opposition party is officially missing in the election, what is the reason of sanctioning the party symbol of the ruling Awami League?
The ruling party nominated its candidates with the “boat” symbol and, at the same time, allowed local party leaders to contest against it. Officially, it makes the party divided and thus, party activists as well as followers become confused and end up voting against the symbol of the party they follow. There are even instances where many local senior leaders have ended up voting against their party symbol.
The situation is very complicated. Further complexity arises when the members of parliament get involved in the process.
For instance, a single MP advocates for the boat in some upazilas, and, paradoxically, creates, either directly or indirectly, environments against the boat in another upazila.
Also, observations support the fact that a district leader campaigns against the boat in one place and in favour of boat in another place.
The party symbol allotment and the party’s important position holders fighting or advocating against the party symbol should not be allowed to go together.
In the process, activists, followers, and common electorates are embarrassed.
In such a situation, in some places, the party symbol becomes a burden for the candidate, particularly in places where opposition party activists and followers silently move against the ruling party candidate and also the ruling party’s local senior leaders go against the party-nominated candidate.
If all the chairman candidates in an upazila parishad election could be put on one stage, they would have been able to inform the community people together about the manifestos and models of local governance process they wish to facilitate for the community they would be representing.
Such a model could also help run constructive debates among them. And thus, it would have been possible to ensure the local election process and result with the free and fair participation of the people. Such a system could also be implemented in the case of the vice chairman candidates.
In the current round of local government elections, I had wished to pilot such an initiative at my upazila, Dharmapasha, followed by Jamalgonj in Sunamgonj zila, but have not received enough support or cooperation from the candidates.
If the Election Commission supports civil society to help test and establish such a model or if the candidates themselves voluntarily wish for it and they have confidence in their own dignity and people’s votes, such a model might indeed be possible and could be tested.
Mohammad Rafiqul Islam Talukdar is an Associate Professor and Director at the Asian University of Bangladesh.