<i>Upazila Parishad</i> elections: A new challenge
AFTER 20 years, the stage is now set for holding the Upazila Parishad elections for the third time thanks to the prime minister-elect, who supported holding of the elections on the due date in spite of some reservations initially.
The elections will be held on January 22 in 481 Upazila Parishads, in which 3,316 persons are contesting for the post of chairman, 2,879 for vice-chairman, and 1,936 women as vice-chairpersons. 14 candidates have already been elected uncontested, of which 9 are women as vice-chairpersons.
This time election is going to be held under the supervision of a most popular elected government, and the nation is eager to see a free, fair and impartial election at the grassroots level also.
The first election for the Upazila Parishads was held in 1985 and the second in 1988. In 1985, about 200 chairmen who owed allegiance to the autocratic government were elected. This prompted the feeling that the upazila election was a means for serious politicisation of local level institutions. Even the second election held in 1988 could not satisfy the political parties and the public about its fairness and impartiality.
This was the reason why, in 1991, the Local Government (Upazila Parishads and Upazila Parishads Reorganisation) Ordinance of 1982 was repealed on the basis of the recommendations of a committee headed by Barrister Nazmul Huda.
Obviously, this decision to make the Upazila Parishad system a non-functional one with the existing set-up and manpower in situ was a wrong decision. The action was termed by many as "throwing the baby with the bath water."
However, the Parliamentary Standing Committee, in April 2005, strongly recommended the continuation of Upazila Parishad as the focal point of local level administration to address the issues of the rural development, poverty alleviation, law and order, etc. The present caretaker government constituted a committee headed by Mr. A.K.M. Shawkat Ali, adviser to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Food and Disaster Management.
Under his capable leadership, the committee suggested some major changes for structural reformations and recommended the abolition of the Gram Sarkar. The adviser of the Local Govt., RD and Cooperatives, Mr. Anwarul Iqbal, deserves commendations for his initiatives to translate those suggestions into reality. The nation is now eager to see vibrant Upazila Parishads with honest dedicated and educated persons at the helm of affairs at the upazila level.
A non-government organisation has already raised allegations that a good number of MP-elects have criminal backgrounds with cases pending against them. The people do not want to see this type of people at the upazila level. In fact, local government representatives, if not honest and dedicated, might make progress more difficult and create impediments in the transformation of Bangladesh into a corruption-free nation.
Secondly, there should not be any violence or breach of the rules of conduct during the upazila elections time. In the Parliament election, there was maximum vigilance by the law enforcing agencies, including the army. This trend should also be continued in the upazila elections.
Thirdly, there should not be any confusion about the Upazila Parishad being the focal point of rural development, and also a major catalyst of development activities. Decentralisation of power will be needed to ensure food production, maintenance of health, family planning, education, rural electrification infrastructures and distribution of fertilizers, management of khas land etc.
Fulfilling the promise of the newly elected government to bring the prices of foodstuffs within the reach of the people and eliminate corruption at the grassroots level obviously depends on the activities of the local level government institutions. Upazila Parishads, performing with dedication and integrity, might help in more production of rice provided fallow land, unused ditches, ponds and haors are brought under intensive cultivation with high yielding varieties of seeds, drip irrigation and scientific use of bio-fertiliser etc.
The landless and marginal farmers could be effectively utilised with the distribution of khas lands and renovation in the system of share-cropping appropriate to the localities, and with cooperatives farming and marketing.
The Upazila Parishads can supervise the performance of sectors like poultry, fisheries, livestock, social forestry, horticulture, milk production, and involve cooperatives societies in marketing of agricultural produce. This is consistent with the promises of the political party in power. Strengthening of Upazila Parishads shall promote poverty reduction, employment generation and empowerment of women.
Fourthly, it is expected that honest and capable candidates shall be elected to the Upazila Parishads to eliminate corruption and nepotism, and to uphold justice and establish rule of law at the grassroots level. Local government representatives can identify the criminals and terrorists in their localities provided they are authorised to prosecute with the devolution of power.
The Charter of Change, or Vision 2021, to turn Bangladesh into a respectable nation with the transformation of political culture by establishing a society free from corruption shall be difficult unless a strong, honest and dedicated Upazila Parishad system is developed to support the programs of the central government.
Therefore, the elections for the Upazila Parishads are most critical and important for the present government as well as for the nation.