Zila parishad polls: Aged leaders rehabilitated again

Awami League FlagFile photo

The ruling Awami League has nominated aged persons to contest zila parishad elections scheduled to be held on 17 October.

In 60 zila parishads of the country, the average age of the persons, who got Awami League nomination, is over 68.

Among them, five are over 80 while 20 of them are over 70 years old.

They are known as 'deprived' leaders in local Awami politics as most of them were denied nomination for Awami League in parliament elections on different occasions.

On Sunday, at a joint meeting of Awami League's parliament and local government people's representative nomination board, these 60 names were announced. However, the nomination for Satkhira was not announced.

The age and political situation inside the party of those candidates were collected through the information sent by local correspondents of Prothom Alo and through discussion with local politicians.

Apart from three hill tracts districts (Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagrachhari), zila parishad election of all other 61 district is scheduled to take place on 17 October.

General voters do not vote in the election. Elected representatives of upazila parishads, city corporations, pourashavas and union parishads are the voters of this election.

After the expiry of the tenure of the country's first elected zila parishads, 61 zila parishads were dissolved on 17 April.

Then on 27 April, the government appointed the chairmen of the dissolved zila parishad as administrators. As per the amended zila parishad act, the tenure of the administrator shall not exceed 180 days.

This time, around 500 candidates sought Awami League's nomination for the post of chairman of 61 zila parishads. Leaders who could not become members of parliament or who have little chance of getting nomination in the future parliamentary elections want to become zila parishad chairman.

For this reason, senior leaders are considered more for this position. Awami League has nominated new candidates in 31 districts, previous chairmen have been nominated in 29 districts. The term of chairman and members in zila parishad is five years.

Local government experts say that the zila parishad, an important level of local government, has been turned into a rehabilitation center for elderly and deprived leaders.

According to the law, zila parishad performs 12 types of mandatory works including review of development activities of the district, construction of roads, culverts, bridges and maintenance.

Apart from this, there are 68 types of optional works in seven fields. The allocation of district councils is not insignificant either. It is difficult for older chairmen to cope with the workload.

Old dominates

The 88-year old Mokbul Hossain got Awami League nomination in the zila parishad election. He is the oldest among the people who got party nomination.

Since 2011, he has been in charge of the administrator and chairman of the district council. And for a decade and a half, he is the vice-president of Bogura district Awami League.

A total of 13 young and old leaders of district-upzilla Awami League applied for nomination for the post of chairman of zila parishad. However, the central Awami League chose Mokbul Hossain as the qualified candidate.

Seeking the anonymity, a leader, who denied nomination, said, Mokbul does not have the physical condition currently to work apart from doing office and routine work sitting at the office.

After announcing the names of the party candidates in the zila parishad election, former organisational secretary of Bogura city Awami League Abdul Mannan Akand announced on Facebook live that he would compete as an independent candidate. He also collected nomination paper as an independent candidate on Sunday.

Akand said to Prothom Alo, "Mokbul Hossain is aged and a sober person. Everything is alright, but is zila parishad a rehabilitation centre for 'aged' Awami League leaders? Is it possible for an 88-year old man fulfilling the responsibility of this post? Isn't there any younger and appropriate leader in Bogura Awami League?

Administrator of Munshiganj zila parishad, Mohiuddin is now 81 years old. Since 2011, he has been in charge of the district council. He is also the president of district Awami League. He sought party nomination in each of the last three parliamentary elections. But the party did not nominate him and gave him the responsibility of zila parishad. However, due to his age, he often remains sick.

The current administrator of Natore zila parishad Sajedur Rahman Khan has been in charge since 2011. He is 83 years old. He is the former president of district Awami League. He wanted to be the party's candidate in every national parliamentary election since 1991. But he could not be a candidate even once. Currently, Sajedur walks with the help of a stick. A helper always accompanies him.

Two more octogenarian nomination seekers are Khaja Samsul Alam (85) of Joypurhat and AKM Fazle Rabbi (84) of Naogaon.

Analysing the nominated people for zila parishad polls, 25 are over 70 years old. There are only eight people under 60. Rest of them, 27, are from 60 to 69. The youngest of them is Nasir Uddin Khan (53) of Sylhet. He is the general secretary of Sylhet zila Awami League.

Awami League presidium member and local government nomination board member Kazi Jafar Ullah told Prothom Alo that efforts had been made to honour the senior leaders of the party's grassroots for the post of zila parishad chairman. Those who could not become members of parliament even after joining the party for a long time have also been taken into consideration.

In the first district council election held in 2016, 11 rebel candidates defeated the party candidates of Awami League. At present, more than 80 per cent of the local government representatives in the country are nominated, supported or leaders of the Awami League. This time, the rebel candidates of the party may compete even in the district council elections in many districts.

Deprived gets priority

Khawaja Samshul Alam was nominated by Awami League for the Jaipurhat-1 (Sadar-PanchBB) constituency in the 2008 parliamentary elections. But he lost the election. He did not get the party nomination in the next two national elections. This time, at the age of 85, he has been nominated by the party for the post of chairman of the district council.

AKM Shafiqul Morshed is the former president of Pangsha upazila Awami League of Rajbari. He was defeated by a rebel candidate with a boat symbol in the Pangsha upazila parishad elections. Shafiqul was the principal of Pangsha Government College. His father is the former president of Pangsha Upazila Awami League. This time Shafiqul got party nomination in zila parishad election with boat symbol.

Awami League leader Chandan Shil got nomination from the party at the Narayanganj zila parishad election. He lost both his legs at the bomb attack of Awami League office at Chashara of Narayanganj on 16 June 2001. Chandan is the senior vice-president of city Awami League. He is a close aide of Shamim Osman, Awami League MP of Narayanganj-4 ( Fatulla- Siddhirganj) constituency.

Damurhuda upazila Awami League president Mahfuzur Rahman has been nominated in Chuadanga. He also got party nomination in zila parishad in 2016. But lost to a rebel candidate.

Mushfiq Hussain Chowdhury is in charge of Habiganj zila parishad since 2011. This time also he got the nomination of the party. He was the general secretary and president of District Awami League for three decades. Currently he is a member of the central committee of Awami League.

He sought party nomination for Habiganj-1 (Nabiganj-Bahubal) constituency in 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2008 national elections. But did not get it even once. However, in 2010, he was nominated in the by-election of this constituency but lost to the BNP candidate.

Only female candidate and cousin of chief whip

Awami League has nominated Salma Rahman for the post of zila parishad chairman in Pirojpur. She is the only woman candidate nominated by the party. Salma is the general secretary of the district branch of Jatiya Mahila Parishad and a member of the municipal Awami League. She is the wife of Pirojpur sadar upazila parishad chairman Mojibur Rahman.

Munir Chowdhury, who got the party's nomination in Madaripur, is the senior vice-president of the district Awami League. He is the cousin of chief whip and member of parliament for Madaripur-1 Noor-e Alam Chowdhury.

Referring the zila parishad as an important stage of local government, local government expert Tofail Ahmed told Prothom Alo that the zila parishad has been turned into a rehabilitation centre for Awami League leaders. He said that the zila parishad has been weakened by not keeping the provision of direct elections.

The process by which zila parishad is being elected is not the right process. zila parishad has no communication with the district level government departments. The zila parishad has been left ineffective and crippled.