Will mayoral elections sort out political crisis?

Faruque Ahmed

BNP-led opposition parties’ initial decision to take part in mayoral elections scheduled for later next month during the present political stalemate may turn out to be a game changer to allow the parties to make an exit from the prolonged crisis which has almost put the wheels of the nation to a grinding halt.

But it is too early to say whether parties will avail of the exit window or the mayoral election may further deepen the political crisis by way of ruling party’s manipulations of the election adding more fuel to fire that now kills scores of people daily and burns private and public properties all over the country.

Govt. uneasy?
Reports said BNP high command’s positive responds towards mayoral polls in the two big cities following the Election Commission’s (EC) announcement of the election schedules has reportedly become cause of uneasiness to the government forcing it to take up fresh political calculations about the strategy.
In fact, the ruling party has so far planned the mayoral election to divert people’s attention from the ongoing blockades and hartals to a new electioneering climate. But in doing so it is equally committed to keep the mayoral electioneering inclusively within the ruling establishment.
But the scenario invariably changed with BNP led opposition’s move to join the polls. The ruling party is also facing rebel candidates to create tension within the party high command while rivals are engaging in verbal fights. But BNP is still weighing out the risks and opportunities of joining the polls in the light of the ongoing movement demanding parliamentary election.
It is very interesting to note that the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmed announced the election schedule after consultation with  Inspector General of Police (IGP) AKM Shahidul Haque who came to see him at his office on March 18 accompanied by Metropolitan Police Chief Asaduzzaman Miah.
The IGP told reporters after the meeting that they have advised the CEC to hold the mayoral polls to two Dhaka city corporations and Chittagong city corporation  by April 30. He justified the timing saying that Pakistan cricket team is scheduled to visit Bangladesh in early May, so it will be comfortable for police to arrange  security if the elections take place before. He also said a congenial atmosphere for elections now prevails in the country and police are ready to give security.
But what hits an impassionate observer here is that the CEC had held consultation with police chiefs as to when it may be convenient to provide security to the polls. Police have also given their right advice. But why he does not at the same time feel necessary to consult the opposition is the more pertinent question.

Poll date & opposition
The CEC has not contacted the opposition sitting on a constitutional post toknow of their mind and move accordingly. The police chief said congenial atmosphere prevails, but what the opposition thinks about it when their prospective candidates and senior leaders and workers are either in jail or on the run.
It is true that mayoral elections are not party based elections, but everyone knows it that the three city corporation elections are even more crucial to the ruling party and the opposition and the elections would be run accordingly right from candidate selection to ensuring their victory. But it appears tricky to many as to why the EC avoided consultation with the opposition before announcing the election schedules or even after it.  The government may avoid the opposition, the EC can’t.
Now question arises how the opposition will be integrated with the election process if the EC is not taking the move.  The point is that if the government and the EC are receptive to the opposition’s participation, there will be hardly any problem to give the opposition their democratic space to run an unhindered election campaign. But if there is any visible gap and that is here, who will overcome it. Then the real troubles may start rolling.
It is to everyone’s knowledge that the opposition would demand an even playing field, release of their leaders and workers and removal of charges against their prospective candidates to take part in the polls. The question is: will the government make such concessions to the opposition, will the EC try to use its neutral stand to make the polls free and fair.
There may be many other demands like deployment of army to supervise the polls or opening the BNP central office to coordinate the electioneering process. Reports said a team of BNP minded professional may visit the CEC on Wednesday to know how he is going to build the trust in the opposition that they will get free election environment without government intervention.

EC to ensure even playing field
People believe that it is the responsibility of the CEC and police may also make sure that the opposition will not be subjected to arrests and other harassment.  Much of BNP’s final decision may depend on how the CEC would remove oppositions concerns.
BNP standing Committee member Lt Gen Mahbubur Rahman has said the party is considering taking part in the polls not to leave the elections without challenge. If they keep away, they would become isolated from voters; if they take part it would prove the popularity of the party to electorates.
The opposition’s participation will also expose the ruling party politics whether they want a real election or a stage managed polls like the January 5 2014 parliamentary election. Not only people at home but the international community will adjudge the entire situation on how the government and the opposition will behave through the electioneering process.
BNP sources hinted at the possibility that they would go for the polls so long it remains a free and fair electioneering process without violence. But if the government comes out to overtake the process, the opposition would immediately withdraw. It may then only deepen the existing political crisis.
So BNP’s decision is part of a strategic move and whether or not it would work as a harbinger for change will equally depend on how the government would use it as a game changer for better or worse. The nation is on watch.

Source: Weekly Holiday

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