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Maiden Zila Parishad Polls Today: Not much enthusiasm, plenty of controversies

The zila parishads are going to the first-ever polls today but the results have already been determined.

The grassroots leaders of the ruling Awami League are about to win most of the chairman and member posts in the long overdue election. Over a third of the 61 district council chairmen has already been elected unopposed.

The grassroots leaders of BNP did not enter the electoral race as they do not have the electorate needed to win the polls.

Some leaders of the Jatiya Party, the main opposition in parliament, and other small parties are contesting for chairman and member posts. But it is unlikely for them to score significantly as most of the voters belong to the AL camp.

Not the general people but the elected representatives of other local government bodies – upazila parishads, union parishads, municipalities and city corporations — are the electorate of the zila parishad polls.

The electorate is entitled to exercise their franchise to elect a chairman and 20 members, including five for the reserved seats for women, to form a zila parishad in a district.

The election will, however, be competitive for the ruling party dissidents who defied the high-command decision and challenged the party-backed aspirants in around 30 chairman and one-fourth of the member posts.

The AL high command has made hectic efforts to keep the dissidents away from the electoral race but failed.

The competition already turned unhealthy in the run-up to the polling. Intense rivalries among the ruling party men have given rise to fear of violence on the election day.

Alongside police, members of Border Guard Bangladesh have been deployed in at least 25 districts to maintain law and order.

“Returning officers and SPs of the 25 districts have sought BGB deployment,” EC Secretary Muhammad Abdullah told The Daily Star yesterday evening.

Twenty members of the law enforcement agencies and one executive magistrate will be deployed in each polling station.

None will be allowed to enter a polling station with mobile phone or any other electronic device, he said.

Meanwhile, the superintendent of police in Jamalpur was withdrawn last evening for his “biased role” ahead of the district council elections.

“The home ministry has come up with the directive following a recommendation by the Election Commission,” Deputy Commissioner of Jamalpur Shahbuddin Khan told The Daily Star.

SM Asaduzzaman, director (public relations) of EC, also confirmed it.

VIOLATION OF CODE OF CONDUCT

Some AL lawmakers have campaigned for their preferred candidates for the chairman posts, violating the electoral code of conduct which bars MPs, who are advisers to the zila parishads, from electioneering.

Their roles forced the Election Commission to write to the Speaker to take steps so that MPs stay off their electoral areas on the polling day. The EC took the move on Monday fearing MPs might further interfere in the polls.

On receipt of the EC’s letter, Speaker Shirin Sharmin Choudhury asked Chief Whip ASM Feroz to take necessary steps in this regard.

“We have contacted all the MPs through letters and SMS. We also sent them the electoral code of conduct requesting them to abide by it,” the chief whip told The Daily Star yesterday.

Still three AL lawmakers of Chittagong have been found staying in the district as of 4:00pm yesterday. They are Mahfuzur Rahman Mita of Chittagong-3, Shamsul Haque Chowdhury of Chittagong-12 and Didarul Alam of Chittagong-4.

Talking to The Daily Star, Mita and Shamsul Haque said they were in Chittagong but outside their constituencies. Didarul could not be contacted.

AL lawmaker AKMA Awal from Pirojpur-1 was staying in his electoral area as of 5:00pm yesterday.

Contacted, Awal admitted that he was in Pirojpur for personal reasons. He claimed he did not know the EC’s bar on lawmakers on staying in their constituencies.

In many areas, the ruling party men contesting for chairman and member posts have allegedly been distributing money and gift items to buy votes.

So far 22 out of 61 chairmen in as many zila parishads have been elected uncontested.

Feni and Jhalakathi will have no voting today as chairmen and all members of the two zila parishads have been elected unopposed.

So, polls will be held today in 59 districts.

Voting for the chairman post in Kushtia is postponed as a case remains pending with the High Court over cancellation of nomination paper of a chairman candidate.

Moreover, a writ petition challenging legality of the indirect election to zila parishad remains pending with the High Court.

‘NOT A HEALTHY COMPETITION’

“The most negative aspect of the polls is that it has appeared as one-party elections because only the ruling AL men are contesting,” said local government expert Dr Tofail Ahmed.

“AL men are fighting against their party men. It is not a healthy competition. Rather, it would be better, if candidates of other major political parties would contest,” he told The Daily Star.

Such intra-party competition may cause violence, influence on voters and use of black money in the polls, he noted.

Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said money and muscle have unfortunately become a part of our political and electoral culture.

“Office of power and public representation is perceived as a gateway to profit making and self-enrichment. That is why, a section of political leaders invest money so desperately for being elected. Openings will therefore be sought to make profit which is likely to open the floodgate for abuse of power and corruption,” Iftekharuzzaman thinks.

Tofail Ahmed, however, said the maiden election will play a positive role in strengthening the zila parishad, the top tier of the local government system.

Since the country’s independence in 1971, elections to zila parishads were never held. Either leaders of the party in power or the bureaucrats were empowered to run the zila parishads in violation of the spirit of the constitutional provision for the formation of the zila parishads through elections.

The AL-led government in December 2011 appointed its party men as administrators to run the district councils. They are still at the helm of the parishads.

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