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Dhaka Tribune

How mayoral elections are reshaping the political landscape

Ongoing city corporation elections may reshape the political landscape of Bangladesh

Update : 27 Jun 2023, 10:26 AM

In May-June, the country witnessed significant city corporation elections that bear great importance for Bangladesh's future political landscape. These elections served as a pivotal test for both the government and the Election Commission, as they provided valuable insights leading up to the twelfth parliamentary elections scheduled for January 2024. 

Several friendly nations of Bangladesh, eager to witness a fair and inclusive upcoming parliamentary election, closely monitored these city corporation elections. The primary objective was to ascertain the validity of the opposition party's claim that conducting a fair election under the existing government and Election Commission was an impossibility.

Commencing with Gazipur City Corporation, followed by Barisal and Khulna, and culminating with Rajshahi and Sylhet, each city corporation election has been marked by fairness and robust competition. 

While some may contest this assertion due to the boycott by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), it is essential to examine the level of competitiveness in the absence of their participation. 

The reality remains that if a political party chooses to abstain from the electoral process continuously, they, too, bear responsibility for their disengagement. Placing the burden of ensuring participatory elections solely on the Election Commission and the government cannot grant them impunity.

Indeed, none of the mayoral candidates from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) participated in the five city corporation elections. However, it is noteworthy that numerous BNP party leaders and supporters actively participated in the councillor positions during each election. 

Despite being expelled from the party, they remained engaged in the electoral process, and a significant number emerged victorious. This indicates that while the central leadership of the BNP chose to boycott the elections, local-level BNP leaders and workers displayed considerable interest in the electoral proceedings. 

Upon closer examination of each city corporation election, it becomes evident that numerous expelled BNP candidates succeeded in securing councillor positions.

This signifies a vibrant and celebratory atmosphere surrounding the city corporation elections. The most significant aspect is the remarkable turnout of over 50% of voters in each election. 

Despite the opposition party's decision to boycott the elections and abstain from fielding a candidate, the message conveyed by the majority of the population through their active participation is clear: The people of Bangladesh have begun to place their trust in the electoral system. Their exercise of the right to vote serves as a powerful statement affirming their confidence and faith in the democratic process.

The prolonged boycott of elections by the BNP has, to some extent, engendered a sense of electoral disinterest among the populace. However, there is a glimmer of hope as people have begun re-engaging with the electoral process through local government elections. 

This development not only signifies a rekindled participation in elections but also reflects the people's growing trust in the current Election Commission's efforts to ensure fairness and competitiveness. 

The decisions undertaken by the Election Commission have successfully motivated citizens to return to the polling stations and exercise their right to vote. This resurgence in civic participation sends a highly positive message for the future political landscape of Bangladesh.

The significance of the five city corporation elections in shaping the future politics of Bangladesh is currently a subject of serious discussion. Undoubtedly, the importance of these elections cannot be overstated. 

They have effectively conveyed a resounding message to nations with bilateral relations with Bangladesh, especially those that have held differing perspectives regarding the forthcoming elections in Bangladeshi politics. 

Those advocating for fair and participatory elections in Bangladesh in the days to come will undoubtedly extend their support to such an electoral system. Simultaneously, this election has further emphasized the possibility of conducting fair elections under the existing government, conveying a powerful message.

The local government elections have witnessed a remarkable display of enthusiasm and festivity among the populace. With the ability to elect representatives at the grassroots level, these elections have transformed into a celebratory occasion, drawing active participation from the people. 

Consequently, if a political party persistently boycotts elections over the years, it can lead to a sense of frustration among its local-level leaders and workers. Such disappointment can potentially weaken the party's organizational structure and detrimentally impact its prospects in future political struggles. 

The local government elections presented the opposition parties with a golden opportunity to gauge their strength at the grassroots level. Unfortunately, they missed out on seizing this chance. Had their candidates emerged victorious in the five city corporation elections, it would have provided them with a favourable platform for conducting future anti-government protests within the city corporations. 

However, being out of power for an extended period has generated a negative perception of the opposition among the populace. Consequently, it cannot be assumed that their party would have secured victory solely through participation in the elections. 

Nonetheless, by abstaining from the electoral process, they have been deprived of the opportunity to validate their standing and demonstrate their influence.

On a contrasting note, the active participation of party leaders from various factions within the Awami League in the five city corporation elections, following the central leaders' direction, stands as a positive aspect for the party. This showcases the party's organizational strength, which is poised to bolster its chances in the upcoming parliamentary elections in January 2024. 

It is worth acknowledging that conflicts between party leaders and workers have arisen at the local level in numerous instances. The disappointment of not receiving nominations has led many leaders to adopt negative roles. 

News reports have shed light on conflicts within the Awami League during the Rajshahi and Barisal City Corporation elections. However, the commendable manner in which the local Awami League, guided by the central leadership, efficiently organized themselves and secured victories in the city corporation elections deserves praise.

In conclusion, the recent five city corporation elections are poised to play a pivotal role in shaping the political landscape of Bangladesh. The confidence exhibited by voters in the electoral process will serve to fortify the integrity of the overall system. 

Numerous discussions have revolved around concerns of voter apathy, highlighting the significance of active participation in elections. Therefore, the positive message the populace conveys through exercising the right to vote in these elections holds immense importance for the future. 

Furthermore, the Election Commission has showcased its competence by effectively organizing fair elections, resulting in a notable absence of significant incidents. The absence of allegations of vote tampering and the vibrant atmosphere in which people cast their ballots signify a positive shift in politics. I firmly believe that this development will usher in a favourable transformation in the political landscape of Bangladesh.

All political parties must approach the election process with an open mindset and collaborate to foster a harmonious democratic process, thus avoiding the pitfalls of revealing political bankruptcy through election boycotts. 

Institutionalizing a robust democratic process rests not solely on the government's shoulders but also on the opposition's. Both the government and the opposition share a collective responsibility in this regard. Therefore, by working together and actively participating in elections, democracy can flourish and thrive harmoniously.

Pranab Kumar Panday is a Professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi.

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