Decision to hold local government polls first needs a rethink

Editorial, NewAge, June 22 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The Election Commission’s decision to hold elections to four city corporations and nine municipalities on August 4 makes it obvious that the commission would rather toe the lines of the military-controlled interim government than heed the popular opinion expressed through the political parties. Hence, its assurance that the local government polls will not create any adverse impact on the holding of the general elections, scheduled for the third week of December, could be interpreted as naive at best and delusional at worst because the decision itself virtually decimates whatever credibility it had in the eyes of the people in general and the political parties in particular, which, in turn, obviates the possibility of the general elections to be accepted as fair and credible. It may seek solace, if not justification, in the fact that two political parties have endorsed its plan to hold local government elections before the parliamentary polls, which, again, will be foolhardy as one of the two parties is headed by a former military dictator while the other is of little consequence as far as national politics, as opposed to politics by the apolitical, is concerned.
   

Worryingly still, the announcement of the schedule for the local government elections puts a big question mark over the interim government’s commitment to a peaceful transition to democratic order, which it has sought to prove by making what is generally perceived to be trade-offs to bring the major political parties across the negotiations table. With all the major political parties denouncing the Election Commission’s plan, and especially the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led alliance vowing to resist the local government polls, it appears somewhat dubious that the government’s dialogue with them would lead to the desired outcome, that is if they are still willing to formally engage with the incumbents. The parties have rightly pointed out that the caretaker administration has no constitutional mandate to deal with local government polls.
   

Curiously, however, the education and commerce adviser to the interim government, Hossain Zillur Rahman, according to a local news agency, said he was confident that the BNP and the Awami League, and by implication their political allies, would change their stances and agree to the local government elections ‘as per the election roadmap’. It may well be presumed that his confidence has had something to do with what has been dubbed as a ‘behind the scene’ negotiations between the government, and former prime minister and AL president Sheikh Hasina prior to her departure for the United States for better medical treatment. It is difficult to readily dismiss his expectations as unrealistic since no one, seemingly not even the AL stalwarts, knows what has transpired in the talks between the government and Hasina. Neither the government nor Hasina herself has bothered to enlighten the people in this regard.
   

However it may be, suffice to say, at this point in time, the decision to hold the local government elections before the parliamentary polls poses a real threat to whatever possibility there is for a peaceful transition to democratic order. Therefore, the commission needs to revise the decision and the government needs to assure the people and the political parties that it is not out to make an already murky situation even murkier. Otherwise, the consequence will be of severe magnitude for the nation, the people and, of course, the incumbents.

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