Upazila polls next target
The ruling Awami League now focuses on the upcoming upazila elections to consolidate its grip on local politics, through winning these key local bodies.
Party insiders say the newly formed government has some shortcomings and it needs full support of the upazila parishads to overcome some of those.
According to them, the government will strengthen the upazila parishads "in real sense" in light of its electoral pledges. And to implement its political and development agendas at the local levels, the government needs its own people at the helm of the upazila parishads.
The Election Commission plans to hold polls to more than 480 upazilas in phases from next month. It may announce the schedule on Sunday or anytime this week for holding polls to over 100 upazila parishads to start with.
"The BNP may take the upazila elections seriously in efforts to bounce back, after its failure to resist the parliamentary election. So, we will try to maintain strict party discipline to make sure that dissidents do not run against the party-backed candidates," an AL presidium member told The Daily Star yesterday.
The presidium member, who is also an influential minister, said they would request party chief Sheikh Hasina to take steps in this regard.
Contacted, Matia Chowdhury, another AL presidium member, said they pledged in their manifesto to strengthen the upazila parishads.
"We will do it this time. We will take necessary measures so that upazila parishads can offer better services to people," said Matia, also the agriculture minister.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already instructed some grassroots leaders, particularly those who were not picked for the January 5 national election, to get ready for the upazila election, insiders said.
Upazila elections are non-partisan in nature. So, the AL will back leaders who have clean image and public support to secure victory, said Mahbubul Alam Hanif, AL joint general secretary.
AFM Bahauddin Nasim, an organising secretary of the party, echoed his view, adding: "We are taking the upazila elections very seriously."
The AL central working committee is likely to discuss the upazila election issue at its meeting today, said Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury, another organising secretary.
In the last upazila elections held on January 22, 2009, AL men secured chairman posts in about 400 out of 479 upazilas. Such a big win came following the December 2008 general election in which the AL won a three-fourths majority.
However, the AL-led government made MPs advisers to the upazila parishads, allowing them to meddle in the functions of these local bodies, considered as the centre of local development.
The AL has again won a three-fourths majority in the January 5 polls, held amid boycott by the BNP-led 18-party alliance.
"This time, we want to remove conflicting relations between lawmakers and upazila parishads for the sake of local development," a government policymaker told this newspaper, requesting anonymity.
According to the policymaker, the BNP will definitely extend its support to its grassroots leaders to win the election. "These are local polls and it will not be possible for the BNP to prevent its leaders from running."
BNP insiders, however, said they were yet to decide if they would contest or boycott. The party has yet to overcome its shock from its failure to resist the general election.
Its grassroots are also divided.
"We have no interest in the upazila election as the general election has been over without us," said Mozahar Ali Prodhan, president of Joypurhat district BNP.
Amirul Islam, general secretary of Meherpur district BNP, is of the same opinion.
But Dinajpur district BNP President Lutfar Rahman Mintoo is in favour of joining the race. "We will do better than the Awami League. And this win will encourage our local leaders to intensify the anti-government movement."
All of them, however, are waiting for the party directives.
Contacted, BNP Standing Committee Member Lt Gen (retd) Mahbubur Rahman said they were yet to make any decision in this regard.
"But personally, I think our party should extend support to the grassroots leaders, to give people a chance to vote against the Awami League-backed candidates."