Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has spoken for many when she suggested in parliament on Wednesday that local elections should also be held on party-basis to remove unnecessary confusion among contestants and voters.
She made the
suggestion on the heels of preparations by the Election Commi-ssion to hold free, fair and impartial City Corporation elections in Dhaka and Chittagong on April.
Sheikh Hasina also requested the Speaker to initiate measures for allowing City, Upazila and Union Council elections under party banners and candidates to be nominated by the parties - instead of parties unofficially giving them support.
In effect, no local election in the country has been held ever totally on a non-party format, as has been stipulated in the Constitution. Parties not only chose candidates but vehemently campaigned for them using name and fame of the party chief and even the dead leaders.
But why is this hide and seek? These days political parties openly naming and supporting contenders in local fray only violates the Constitution and demeans the independence of the Election Commission, an institution itself required to be strengthened further for ensuring credible and peaceful election.
Now the Prime Minister has boldly uttered words in favour of partisan local elections it would not only remove an unnecessary lid on the polls but create healthy competition among contesting parties and simplify the job of the EC which is often alleged to be biased towards ruling party-backed contenders.
This is happening ahead of the elections to the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) and Chittagong City Corporation.
The proposal of Sheikh Hasina should be vetted by the Speaker and put to work as soon as possible - although it will miss the upcoming city polls.
During Upazila elections last year, both ruling Awami League and opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) actively fielded their chosen candidates, campaigned for them and even fought to ensure they win. These led to enforced irregularities and violence such as occupying and burning polling centers, stuffing of ballots and holding poll officials hostage.
Law enforcers deployed to keep peace an order during local polls have always bowed down to militant political activists thus turning the votes into farce.
Under above circumstances, the Prime Minister's right step towards legalizing the participation of political parties in all elections will surely help ease the unwanted situation and allow healthy competition between parties.
However, this alone will not remove fears of unfair voting or intimidation of voters or tampering of the results. These can be stopped only if the EC is given unflinching authority to run the election independently and the government cooperates by offering security and logistics as may be requested by the EC.
The EC also should have a mindset to perform its job without fear or favour and not submit to any undue request or pressure. The local elections are no less important than parliamentary polls because they lay down and implement the crucial framework for development in rural areas. The EC must prove itself beyond avoidable criticism and keep its image clean.
The Prime Minister acts on the basis of realities and she rightly realized the need for removing the cap on political participation in local elections. This Sheikh Hasina wants implemented without delay to avoid further complications.
In the last Uapazila election, the EC failed to implement its mandate to ensure free and peaceful voting. Law and order turned too bad with the superior security personnel, helping police, also playing "lame duck." It was the EC's responsibility to call them to act. Deployment of additional security forces in the Upazila vote had proved futile.
Holding violence-free election is a difficult proposition in Bangladesh amid growing intolerance among political parties and alleged politicization of the electoral machinery. If the Prime Minister would also look into the matter and direct the EC and relevant officials to remain completely neutral in discharging their duties it will help strengthen democracy and overcome challenges.
We would expect all political parties will endorse Sheikh Hasina's honest desire to un-lid local elections and install credible local governance.
Sheikh Hasina in parliament also spoke about the end-April City polls. She welcomed BNP's decision to join the polls breaking away from its perceived stance to boycott all polls as long as the incumbent premier holds the fort. BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia's quiet departure from her earlier decision has been welcomed by all. But the PM asked what Khaleda means by level playing field during the city polls.
Anyone having the slightest political wit knows that to the BNP,level playing field is a guarantee from the Election Commission that its candidates will win the Mayor and Councillor posts in the city elections. The EC of course cannot promise so. But Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmed has assured the leaders from BNP-led 20-party alliance that he will do everything possible to hold a free, fair and credible election on
We think Khaleda Zia should be satisfied with that assurance and cooperate with the EC to hold the polls in a free and peaceful atmosphere.