The ruling Awami League will participate in the upcoming upazila parishad elections slated to be held in March. However, the announcements made by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and several other parties to boycott the election have set a new challenge for the ruling party to make the polls competitive.
This is the first ever upazila parishad elections in the country to be held with candidates nominated by the political parties.
Awami League (AL) members would also be allowed to contest independently. The ruling party strategy includes encouraging opposition BNP persons to contest on their own, several policymakers of the party confirmed to Prothom Alo.
The allies of the AL-led 14 party were also asked to participate independently. Accordingly, the grand alliance members will take part independently. This strategy will be finalised, depending on several issues including participation of an adequate number of aspirants, identifying competitive areas, determining the strength of their own candidates and those of the opposition.
Violence may erupt in the upazila elections if only AL candidates contest. The ruling party is unwilling to hold a one-sided election again just after the 11th parliamentary elections. It also wants the law enforcement to play a stern role.
The BNP on Thursday announced it would not join any election held under the present government and with the present election commission.
In the meantime, leader of Charmonai Pir’s Islami Andolan, Rezaul Karim has said, despite being fully prepared, the party would not join in any city corporation, upazila council or municipality elections as the prime minister’s words did not match her deeds.
The left democratic alliance, formed by eight leftist parties, will announce their boycott shortly, according to several leaders.
However, Hasan Mahmud, information minister and publicity affairs secretary of Awami League, told Prothom Alo that BNP would eventually join these polls at the last moment and many of its members will contest independently too.
There are 492 upazilas in the country and the election will be held in five phases in 481 upazilas. The election commission plans to conduct the polls in four phases in 464 upazilas within March while the rest will be carried out after Eid-al-Fitr.
All the 14 allies of the Awami League took part separately in all the local government elections except a few city corporation polls earlier. They will join the upazila polls separately again.
Several parties including the Workers Party, Jasad (Inu), Jasad (Ambia), Ganotontri Party have called meetings during the first half of February.
The leaders of the allies have doubts about the election as they pointed out that the Awami League candidates used force during the 2015 municipality election as well as during the 2016 union council polls. Election violence and Awami League infighting saw over a hundred deaths. The absence of BNP and other political parties may lead to internal AL clashes, they perceived.
The grand alliance leaders were further doubtful after not being included in the cabinet after the 11th national elections. Also, the first session of the parliament will be held on 30 January but they have not been summoned for any formal dialogue as yet. The allies were not a part of the post-election victory rally of AL either. And in this backdrop, the by-polls schedule of the Dhaka North City Corporation has been announced and discussions over the upazila elections have started. All this has led the alliance members to have doubts about their position in the alliance.
Politburo member of the Workers Party Anisur Rahman Mallik, Jasad leader Sharif Nurul Ambia, Jasad (Inu) leader Shirin Akhter and Ganotontri Party general secretary Shahadat Hossain have said their parties would contest in the polls without any alliance.
There is disagreement among the AL leaders themselves regarding the use of political identity in this election. Certain quarters within AL feel that, given the boycott by BNP and conflict within the union and municipalities, it would be wiser not to use any political symbol, according to a senior AL leader.
Several leaders of the AL-led 14 party alliances feel the upazila polls would be more competitive if held in a non-political manner. It would be possible to amend the upazila parishad act in the next parliament, they contend. Despite a law being enacted in 2015 with the provision for contesting with party symbols, the 2015 elections did not take place. The prime minister, however, might not agree to amend the law without any election being held, the leader apprehended.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Nusrat Nowrin.