Upazila polls: Another acid test for EC19 February 2014
THE first phase of upazila parishad elections is going to be held today at 97 upazilas across the country in a highly charged political environment and under tight control of the ruling party Awami League and its administrative mechanism. The major opposition BNP led 19-party alliance which boycotted the January 5 Parliamentary election is participating in the upazila polls, although indirectly as the local government elections are not held on partisan line. It appears that the upazila election is going to be an acid test for the government to prove that it has popularity at the grassroots level at a time when its acceptance to the nation is at the lowest after the January 5 election.
The BNP-led opposition has agreed to take part in the polls in this situation not the leave the field abandoned to the ruling party to capture the local control. In fact the ruling party hastily moved for the upazila election immediately after the Parliamentary election to take BNP led opposition unguarded when the party is busy to restore discipline and confidence after the ruling party's unilateral victory in Parliamentary elections. The opposition alliance claims it has huge popularity now throughout the country and may uproot the ruling party from local leadership if elections are held neutrally and peacefully by taking part in the upazila polls. Thus both the major parties are going to use the election to try to establish its control in the countryside at a time when the ruling party is in an advantageous position to use the local administration, police and law enforcing agencies to secure the victory of its candidates.
In the fight, both the parties are therefore desperately trying to field a single candidate for the post of chairman and expelling rebel candidates at places where they are not withdrawing candidacy for the party supported candidates. But the BNP supported candidates in the upazila polls are facing a hostile local administration and reported harassment from law enforcing agencies. At many places police are arresting BNP candidates, their supporter or keeping them in the run under various cases. BNP Standing Committee member Toriqul Islam Monday threatened that BNP supported candidates may abandon the election in Khulna Division if police and law enforcers do not stop harassing candidates and their voters.
We hold the view that upazila election may become another critical issue if the government does not allow it to be held freely and peacefully. Any violence and gross irregularity at upazila elections may trigger further unrest throughout the country to rally more popular support behind the opposition in its fight for democracy. We ask the government to keep the situation peaceful so that people can vote for the candidates of their choice. We also ask the Election Commission (EC) not to become partisan and maintain its neutrality by allowing the election to take place without intervention of the local administration, ministers, MPs and such other senior government and party functionaries.