AL mulls not to allocate party symbol in upazila polls to avoid conflict

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Ruling Awami League is considering not to nominate anyone from the party with boat symbols in the upcoming upazila parishad election to avoid conflicts.

If the party opens the race, then anyone from the ruling party would be able to contest in the election with their own symbols.

AL high-ups’ said the party has not yet finalised if it would allocate the party symbol to candidates in the upazila election. But they think it is unlikely that the BNP and opposition parties will take part in the upazila election.

Under this circumstance, nominating a candidate from the party does not make much sense; rather it will increase internal conflict in the party.  

BNP has not even held any discussion about another election on the heel of the 12th parliament that it boycotted. The party is still focusing on waging a post-election movement and releasing its incarcerated leaders. That’s why the BNP policymakers think it’s unlikely that the party will officially join the polls.

Irrespective of whether BNP participates in the upazila election or not—Awami League is discussing not fielding any candidate from the party for the sake of internal discipline.

AL central leadership held a joint meeting with Dhaka city units and associate organisations at the party headquarters on Wednesday. After the meeting, many central leaders requested AL general secretary Obaidul Quader not to select party nominees in the upcoming upazila election. Quader told them that he would discuss the issue with prime minister Sheikh Hasina.

AL sources said the majority of the party’s central leaders have been raising objections against fielding party nominees in local government elections. They also want ministers and lawmakers to be allowed to participate in election campaigns in local government.

Sources said the ruling party might backtrack from the decision to nominate candidates from the party but the ministers-lawmaker might not be allowed to take part in electioneering.  Because if the ministers and lawmakers are allowed to take part in electioneering, then the internal conflict might increase and allegations of influencing the election might appear.

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Political parties contest in local government elections with their own electoral symbols since enactment of local government election act 2015. The political parties nominate candidates for upazila and union parishad chairman posts, pourashava and city mayor posts. The race is open for vice chairman, councilor and member posts. However, a lot of AL leaders participate in the election in all these posts as independent candidates.

The election commission (EC) hinted at the announcement of polls schedule in around 100 upazilas in the first phase next week. The upazila election, which will take place in four-five phases, might start from March next.

AL, joint general secretary AFM Bahauddin Nasim told Prothom Alo that discussion is going on about not to nominate any candidate from AL’s electoral symbol taking the issue of party’s unity into consideration.

Expulsion’s effectiveness in question

As per AL’s party constitution, anyone contesting or campaigning against the party nominated candidate should be expelled from the party immediately. All leaders who contested elections violating the party decision since 2015 were expelled from AL. But the party allowed its leaders to contest in the 12th parliamentary election going against the party nominated candidates.

A leader of the central committee of AL told Prothom Alo on the condition of anonymity that it has been seen that the leadership chain in grassroots becomes adversely affected where rebel candidates are expelled. The rebels who were once expelled later had to be brought back. Former Gazipur mayor Jahangir Alam was expelled twice and brought back each time. This strategy of expulsion does not work. That’s why the issue of not extending the party's nomination in the upazila election is coming to the fore this time.

Another central AL leader said the grassroots of the party is already divided as independent candidates of the party contested in the recent national election. This gulf will further widen if party symbols are allocated in the upazila election.

Turnout lower in elections under party symbol

The number of upazilas in the country is 492. Last upazila parishad election was held in 2019 in five phases under party symbols. The upazila elections held under party symbols for the first time ever was boycotted by BNP and like-minded opposition parties. According to the election commission, the voter turnout in the last election was lower than any time in the past.

Turnout was 60 to 70 per cent in the past upazila parishad elections, but the voter turnout in the last upazila election was 40.22 per cent.

In 2016, election to union parishad, the lowest level of local government, took place under party symbol. In that election, a large number of AL leaders won the post of chairman uncontested. Most of the unions in Feni and Bagerhat did not have to vote for all the posts of chairman and members. Over a hundred AL leaders-activists lost their lives in the internal conflict as many of the AL leaders contested as rebel candidates in that election.

An AL leader told Prothom Alo that boycott of opposition parties and election under party symbol were among the major reasons for low turnout in the local elections. That’s why party nominations should not be given to increase turnout and competitiveness in the elections. This can also decrease violence.

A source of AL said there was a political goal behind incorporating party symbols in the local government election. The AL targeted wide expansion of party symbols in the grassroots. It also eyed establishing the party’s representation in every phase of local government.

Now the existing law needs to be amended to scrap the system of party nomination in local government. But AL does not want to amend the law right now. So, the party might keep the existing law intact and just avoid nominating any candidate.

Asked, AL’s joint general secretary Mahbub Ul Alam Hanif told Prothom Alo that the issue of not giving party nomination in upazila election was discussed and many central leaders were in favour of it.

The issue would be discussed officially in the party and the party chief would take the final decision, he added.