Upazila polls: People’s vote for pluralism

Shahnawaz Khan, RTNN: For the common mass of a democratic country like Bangladesh voting for the preferred candidate or the political party is the only way to exercise the political power. Bangladeshis have been exercising this power in a very interesting manner. During the last decade the state power has been shifted to two major political parties periodically. The reason was the agony of common people caused by the corruption and misrule of the ruling party during their 5 year term.

The shifting of power which had become almost regular between BNP and Awami League has come to a halt this year since BNP didn’t participate in the l0th general election. The objection of BNP and its allies was that they would not take part in any election under the government of Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh since 2008 and the chairperson of BNP’s rival Awami League.

The result was quite obvious, the one sided victory of Awami League. Absence of voters in most of the poling centres, massive casting of counterfeit votes, and uncontested victory of 154 (more than 50% of total seats) ruling party candidates has made it one of the most bizarre political events in the history.

The occurrence during the last election which had taken the country almost to the brink was political violence created due to clash between ruling authority and opposition parties specially Jamaat-e-Islami. The cancellation of Jamaat’s registration as a political party, execution of its leader Abdul Kader Mollah, mass arrest of the party leaders and activists of its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir caused some of the deadliest clashes in the history of Bangladesh.

After all these turmoil we have now the Upazila election in our hands. Bangladesh has 500 Upazilas which is the second lowest tier of regional administration. In the first two phases elections have been done in 212 Upazilas. Despite of frequent violence in the poling centres, the elections have been concluded with an astounding result. From the political history of Bangladesh anyone could assume that in the Upazila election BNP supported candidates would be the favourites and so has happened. But what we can call a suprising outcome of the election is Jamaat’s resurface in the political arena of Bangladesh.

For the last 5 years this party’s strength was mainly concentrated to free its leaders convicted of war crimes committed during the war of 1971. But during the last two phases of Upazila election the campaign of Jamaat’s workers in favour of their candidates and even in some constituencies, in favour of BNP blessed candidates have drawn the attention of all.

In the first phase of election Jamaat has confirmed 15 of its candidates as the Upazila Chairman and it has confirmed 22 of its candidates as vice chairmen. Jamaat’s greater success is it has for the first time has got the upper hand among female voters and secured 10 posts of vice chairmen reserved for female candidates. Jamaat E Islami has always been considered as a conservative religion based political party which had a negligible acceptance among women even a few years ago. But the result of Upazila election is showing us a different reality.

In the second phase of Upazila election Jamaat achieved another 8 Upazila with their candidates as the chairmen. It has also bagged 32 of 112 vice chairmen posts, a draw with BNP while AL won only 30 and Jatiya Party only 3 and others got 14. Here Jamaat has shown another surprise with their increasing women power. They had run for 16 vice chairmen posts reserved for women and bagged 11 of them. For a religion based far right political party such kind of progress is quite unusual in the history of Bangladesh.

According to political experts’ torture and harassment on Jamaat leaders have helped them to gain sympathy of common people. Another factor that has worked in favour of Jamaat leaders is the tremendous corruption and misrule of Awami leaders. In most of the upazilas people didn’t vote for the Awami blessed leaders only for their incessant corruption. Absence of able BNP blessed leaders has also created a gap which has been filled by Jamaat effectively. A responsible leader of Kushtia Jamaat says, “We had understanding with BNP and it was reflected in the poll result.” This is quite certain and it shows that despite of government’s pressure on BNP to leave Jamaat, the two parties are playing quite well side by side to face their common rival. And after Jamaat’s success in these elections we can easily assume that BNP will never think of leaving Jamaat in future whatever the pressure might be imposed on them.

The current success of Jamaat will also help them to reorganise their party in the grass root level which has shattered by the continuous clash with the law enforcers and ruling party workers. If the success rate of Jamaat continues in the coming phases of Upazila polls, we can assume that in the next general election Jamaat will be one of the largest political parties. It will also have a stronger support base than Jatyio party or any other party under BNP and Awami League led alliance.

Jamaat’s growing support base may also pose a threat to government’s effort to continue the trial of Jamaat leaders accusing them of war crimes. The intensity of resistance that Jamaat has already shown as a response to the execution of their leader and even passing verdict against their leaders can be resumed with their revived strength. Lawmakers should also consider that banning such a strong political party like Jamaat may bring further violence and instability which will be difficult to neutralize by the government which has the minimum support in the local government.

This is for sure that Bangladesh is going through a turning point in her history. Any wrong move by Bangladeshi leaders may give birth to a dire consequence for its people and the land. It is high time for the leaders to think of a more pluralistic and positive approach in political arena.

Source: RTNN