The upcoming elections to five city corporations in Bangladesh have left the ruling Awami League (AL), opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and the Election Commission (EC) facing distinct challenges. These elections have the potential to impact the next general elections, and any wrong step in the city polls can be costly for all. What strategies BNP takes in these city polls or how Awami League or the Election Commission acts would be closely observed within and outside the country, raising apprehension in different quarters about the direction of politics in the country leading up to the ensuing national parliamentary elections.
Challenges for BNP even if it boycotts polls
The challenge for BNP, which has been continuing its movement demanding the national elections be held under a caretaker government, is somewhat complex. As part of the ongoing movement, BNP remains fixed on its stance of not participating in any election under the current regime, including the city polls. However, grassroots activists are pressuring the central leadership of the party to participate in the polls. Sylhet city mayor and BNP leader Ariful Haque Chowdhury might participate in the elections, which he discussed with the party’s acting chairperson during his visit to London.
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Additionally, BNP leader Nazrul Islam Manju has openly expressed his interest in contesting in the Khulna city polls, while Gazipur BNP leader Hasan Uddin Sarker has said that the ruling party candidate would not win without a fight. If these leaders participate in the polls and BNP is forced to support them unofficially, the party’s stance of not participating in the polls under this government would be in question. On the other hand, if BNP remains adamant in its stance, the government might take advantage of the willingness of the BNP leaders to contest in the polls and hold ‘Ukil Sattar Model’ elections like in the Brahmanbaria-2 by-polls. There is an apprehension among BNP leadership that the government, if successful, might use the same strategy in the upcoming general elections. Moreover, BNP’s reluctance to participate in the election may make them irrelevant in politics. They skipped previous elections, which led to a one-sided victory for the Awami League. If they repeat the same decision in the upcoming election, it could result in a similar outcome, further weakening their political position.
Challenges for the ruling party
The city corporation elections has also placed the ruling Awami League in a challenging position as there are questions over the country’s election system, and election process. There is room for improvement in the level of voter engagement in local government elections and by-elections. Moreover, the opposition party is carrying on its movement for a national election under a non-partisan government. If the city corporation elections end up being one-sided, it would deepen the current political crisis, which would be detrimental to the ruling party. Additionally, if the opposition party doesn’t participate, the inner turmoil of the Awami League could appear, and they might have to tackle rebel candidates. Gazipur, Sylhet, and Barishal out of the five cities could see rebel candidates. There are indications from several Awami League leaders that the government might play a role in ensuring competitive elections. There are already discussions within the ruling party regarding increasing voter participation in polls, and some of them are saying they want interested BNP leaders to take part in the polls to ensure a competitive election.
To address these issues, the ruling party is focusing on ensuring a high voter turnout and checking rebel candidates from competing against the party-nominated candidates. They are even considering encouraging some BNP leaders to participate in the election to increase the voter turnout. Awami League policymakers believe that a successful election campaign highlighting the government’s achievements and development projects could help increase voter turnout and maintain a competitive election environment. The party is confident that if they can maintain a competitive environment and ensure high voter turnout, their nominated candidates will win easily. The upcoming city corporation elections are significant given that everyone is keeping a close eye on the election-related issues, and the outcome of the elections may have an impact on the approaching national elections.
Can the election commission rise up to its role?
The Election Commission (EC) faces the challenge of ensuring fair elections. The election commission’s success in holding fair and transparent city polls will demonstrate the effectiveness of its mandate and the country’s democratic process. As the election date approaches, the EC must make every effort to ensure that the election process is free and fair, and any attempts to influence the election are dealt with promptly and firmly. As the country’s political arena becomes tumultuous before elections, and a major player till now saying it will not participate, then it would be difficult to make the elections competitive. There are also discussions on how to engage the voters and increase their interest in the elections. They are also considering different strategies to tackle rebel candidates and ensure their own candidates’ victory.
The EC also faces a significant challenge in these city polls. The commission has been under pressure from both the ruling party and the opposition parties over the last few years. The opposition parties have been demanding a non-partisan government to oversee the national elections, while the ruling party is advocating for the EC to be trusted to hold fair and transparent elections. The EC’s image has been somewhat tarnished due to allegations of bias and favouritism towards the ruling party. In the recent by-elections, the EC was accused of not doing enough to prevent rigging and violence. There are concerns that similar incidents could happen during the city polls. The city polls thus will be significant for the EC.
Furthermore, the EC will have to ensure that the elections are free, fair, and transparent. It needs to take necessary steps to prevent rigging and violence and ensure that voters can exercise their right to vote without any hindrance. The commission has to remain neutral and unbiased and not be influenced by any political party or individual. It must take immediate action if any irregularity is reported and ensure that the perpetrators are held accountable.
To conclude, the upcoming city polls in Bangladesh pose significant challenges for all parties involved as well as the election commission. The ruling Awami League, opposition BNP, and election commission must work together to ensure that the elections are free, fair, and transparent. Any wrong step can have a significant impact on the next general elections, and all parties must tread carefully. The BNP faces a significant challenge in maintaining its unity and solidarity, while the ruling party and EC need to restore the people’s faith in the election system. These city polls are crucial in the lead-up to the national elections, and all parties must act responsibly and with integrity to ensure a democratic and peaceful process.