Let the local election be non-partisan

Since the British period, local government elections have traditionally been non-partisan, although those in power often sought to exert political influence. However, in November 2015, the Awami League government amended five laws related to Union Parishad, Upazilla Parishad, Pourasava (municipality), and city corporation elections, allowing elections with partisan symbols. This decision was made despite protests from opposition parties and local government experts.

In addition to fielding candidates with party symbols, the Awami League also encouraged independent candidates in the 12th general elections. The competitiveness of the election is a topic of debate, but it is undeniable that party discipline has eroded at the grassroots.

Most conflicts related to the election were observed between the workers and supporters of Awami League candidates and independent candidates. Tensions among Awami League workers and supporters persist in many areas due to the aftermath of the election.

In the upcoming upazilla council elections, the Awami League is reportedly considering not using the boat symbol. Additionally, central leaders of the Awami League are actively engaging in resolving party disputes within their respective areas. Observing these activities, one may recall the old Bengali proverb, 'Think before you leap."

It's worth noting that while our constitution mentions the autonomy of local government, no government has allowed local government bodies to function independently. Historically, during the Awami League period, BNP-supporting mayors were elected in major city corporations, and vice versa during the BNP period. The issue arose primarily after the law was amended in 2015, enabling the use of party symbols in local government elections.

Unfortunately, some influential leaders of the ruling party have allegedly misused this law, turning the election process into a farce in their areas. Their intervention has resulted in candidates winning unopposed in many local government bodies.

Furthermore, after the introduction of party symbols, opposition parties have frequently boycotted elections for various local government bodies. Consequently, party politics has overshadowed the aspirations of local people in these elections.

After the shift to local government body elections using party symbols, there has been an increase in conflicts, loss of life, and a potential breakdown in social relations. Previously, rival candidates would set aside their differences after local elections and collaborate to address people's problems. However, with the current system, national politics takes precedence for both winning and losing candidates, often neglecting local issues.

The existing local government system operates in a hybrid form—semi-party, semi-nonparty. Party symbols are allocated to Upazilla Parishads, UP chairman candidates, and mayoral candidates for Pourasava and City Corporations. However, councilor and member candidates do not receive party symbols. Election for the same organisation cannot be held through two different methods.

Local government bodies in Bangladesh are already considered weak, lacking the authority to make policy decisions. The introduction of party symbols has significantly altered their character.

The question of whether the Awami League will use party symbols in the upcoming upazila council elections remains uncertain. However, we call for local government elections to be entirely non-partisan. If the government takes such an initiative in the first session of the new parliament, it is hoped that everyone, regardless of party affiliation, will support it.