Upazila elections: Rule to submit voter signatures should be removed

The election commission has decided to hold upazila parishad elections in four phases in May. The first phase of the election will be held on 4 May, the second phase on 11 May, the third phase on 18 May and the fourth phase on 25 May.

Since 2016, party symbols have been used in the Upazila Parishad elections. For independent candidates there is a law to submit a list with signatures of 250 voters of the electoral area ensuring their support along with the nomination paper. But the ruling Awami League this time has decided not to give the party symbol in the upazila elections.

In this context, the EC has been thinking of relaxing the law regarding compulsory submission of the signatures of 250 voters for prospective independent candidates for chairman and vice-chairman posts, says a Prothom Alo report. EC’s committee on amendment of laws has been working on a draft to introduce some amendments to the upazila parishad election rules and code of conduct. Apart from relaxing the provision for the independent candidates, increasing the amount of security deposit and increasing the percentage of votes to be received to safeguard the security have been kept in the draft.

The relevant committee of the EC has also discussed the issue of increasing the amount of security deposit from current Tk 10,000 to Tk 200,000 for the posts of chairman and vice-chairman, and increasing it from existing Tk 5,000 to Tk 50,000 for the post of female vice-chairman.

Despite their party identities or not having one for that matter, all the candidates will be regarded as independent since the election would not be held along the party lines. In fact, all the local government elections were held in a nonpartisan manner until the amendment brought in the local government elections law in 2015.

Holding the local government elections along party lines has to some extent destroyed the solidarity and fellow feeling among the people of different political identities, say the experts. We hope the governing Awami League has realised the matter. It’s better late than never. But the local governments would not be benefited if the party adopts the strategy just to exhibit the elections as competitive, like the recently concluded parliamentary elections. Decentralisation in governance is a must to make local government powerful, according to the constitution.

Speaking about this, local government expert Tofail Ahmed told Prothom Alo that local government elections should be held in a nonpartisan manner. He also said there should not be any compulsion for candidates to produce the voters’ signatures while submitting nomination papers. He pointed out that parliamentary system is followed in the countries where local government elections are held on party lines. No separate voting is required for mayors and councillors. Everyone must first be elected as a councillor.

The Awami League government conducted the local government election in a hybrid system. City mayors, and union parishad or upazila chairmen were elected on party symbols, but councillors and members elected as independent candidates.

If the upazila election is held in a nonpartisan way, the leadership of BNP and like-minded parties, which boycotted the parliamentary election, could show flexibility to the grassroots leaders and activists’ taking part in the election. Several BNP leaders hinted that to Prothom Alo. In that case adoption of any different strategy would not be required to make the election look competitive. Indeed it will be competitive.

Sharing the sentiments of Tofail Ahmed, we also want to say, not only the upazila, elections to all local government bodies should be made non-partisan and the requirement of providing voters’ signatures should be removed.