Upazila parishads go to polls today amid a crucial and prestigious battle between the ruling Awami League and BNP with people of 97 upazilas exercising their franchise in the first phase of the local government elections.
The series of battle of ballots kicks off only one and a half months after the one-sided January 5 parliamentary election held amid a boycott by the BNP-led alliance.
Polls to 117 upazilas will be held in the second phase on February 27, while the third phase will be held on March 15 in 83 upazilas and fourth in 92 upazilas on March 23. The Election Commission has yet to announce the schedule for the fifth-phase polls.
Although non-partisan in nature, the crucial elections have already generated heat in national politics as grassroots leaders of different parties including BNP are contesting the polls.
Winning the majority posts, which include one chairman and two vice-chairmen for each parishad, in more than 480 upazilas is likely to boost the winning camp in the coming days.
The ruling AL wants to prove its popularity through win in the elections as the party was mired into controversy over holding the one-sided parliamentary elections. On the other side, for BNP its victory will point at a decline in the popularity of the ruling alliance.
The BNP high command through these elections also want to boost the party's grassroots leaders and workers who got frustrated for the failure to resist the January 5 election.
As the polls appear as a prestige issue for both the rival camps, their high commands have made hectic efforts to pick up single candidate for each post, but their efforts could not succeed in many electoral areas.
As a result, candidates backed by both the AL and BNP would have to fight their own party colleagues alongside rival party-supported contenders in the battle of ballots in several upazilas.
Around 1.64 crore voters are entitled to cast their votes today amid a tight security. A large number of law enforcers along with army personnel were deployed to maintain law and order so that people cast their votes peacefully.
The EC has taken all-out preparations for today's polls. A festive mood has been prevailing in these upazilas with the electorate engaging in last-moment discussion about whom to vote.
Contenders, most of whom are grassroots leaders, are waiting for the people's verdict after wrapping up around two-week-long hectic electioneering for the crucial posts in the upazila parishads.
A win in today's battle will also help the respective parties set their strategies in the rest of the upazila elections.
However, BNP has already come up with allegations of fairness in the polls. The party's acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir yesterday alleged the upazila polls would not be fair under the present government as it was using the law enforcers to oppress the BNP-backed candidates.
A BNP delegation led by BNP Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi Ahmed has already lodged complaints with the EC in this regard.
The last elections to around 480 upazila parishads were held on January 22, 2009 after a long break of 19 years amid huge public expectations.
But the AL-led government did not take measures to make the upazila parishads functional. Rather, it took many steps including empowering MPs to meddle in the functions of the parishads turning this tier of local government apparently dysfunctional.
Even formation of the upazila parishads remains incomplete, as elections to the reserved seats for women representatives were not held in last five years.
FORMATION & FUNCTIONS
Comprised of a chairman, two vice-chairmen, chairmen of all union parishads and mayor of municipality, if there is any under a given upazila, and a certain number of women members from the reserved seats, an upazila parishad sits at least once a month to review the ongoing activities and decide the next course of actions.
As per the article 59 of the Constitution, the upazila parishads are designated to perform significant functions relating to administration and the work of public officers, maintenance of public order, the preparation and implementation of plans relating to public services and economic development.