The Election Commission (EC) prepares to hold municipality polls at the end of the year, spurring battle readiness among the grassroots leaders of the ruling Awami League and the BNP.
According to EC officials, elections to around 245 out of 317 municipalities are likely to be held in December and the rest in phases later. Polls schedule may be declared by the end of November, they add.
In the January 2011 municipal elections, the BNP-backed candidates won more mayoral posts than their AL-supported rivals.
The AL-blessed mayor candidates won in 88 municipalities, while the BNP-sponsored ones won in 92 out of 236 municipalities that went to polls in that phase.
“We have already started taking preparations to hold the elections, though the polling date has yet to be finalised,” EC Secretary Sirazul Islam told The Daily Star.
The preparations include drafting the list of polling centres, procuring electoral materials and printing nomination papers, among others.
The EC has to hold elections to municipalities within the last 90 days of the incumbent mayors’ tenures.
“Our estimates are that tenures of the elected representatives of around 240 to
245 municipalities are likely to end by this time. After preparing the final list, we will place it before the election commissioners for announcing the election schedule,” Sirazul added.
The elections are likely to appear as a major challenge for all three parties involved — the EC, the AL and the BNP.
Holding free and fair elections is a major challenge for the EC. The recent city corporation polls in Dhaka and Chittagong as well as upazila elections last year were tainted by large scale irregularities and ballot box stuffing allegedly by AL men.
Local government expert Dr Tofail Ahmed thinks the EC’s “negligence and inactive role” were the main reasons behind the alleged irregularities.
“As the evil practice has returned to our electoral process, the common people are losing trust in the elections. It is the duty of the Election Commission to regain that trust,” he observed.
Speaking anonymously, a top EC official said, “The country’s electoral process will not be completely fair until there’s a change in the prevailing political culture.”
Both the AL and the BNP are likely to take the elections as a tool for gauging their popularity.
The AL would want to win in most of the municipalities so that the party can claim widespread popularity across the country.
The BNP on its part would like to bag more votes so that it can strengthen its anti-government movement.
Local AL and BNP leaders who have their eyes set on the mayoral posts are gearing up to contest the polls.
“As a politician, I have to keep in touch with party leaders and common people regularly. Now I am doing that more targeting the polls,” said Mahbubur Rahman, incumbent mayor of Bogra municipality and adviser of the district unit BNP.
“I am preparing myself to contest the polls. I am visiting different areas daily and talking with different social organisations in our localities,” said Shahidul Islam Shaheen, incumbent mayor of Mirkadim municipality in Munshiganj.
Although Shaheen said he was not directly involved with any political party, he claimed most of the AL leaders in his municipality were working for him.
Besides, elections to more than 500 union parishads are likely to be held by March or April next year, while the rest of around 4,000 lowest tier of local government body might go to polls by next June, said EC officials.
The EC has sought Tk 700 crore from the finance ministry to hold the municipality and Union Parishad polls, said Shajahan Khan, deputy secretary of the EC Secretariat.