Party Politics and City Corporation Elections

Over the periods oftime, the political, economic, social, and cultural importance of urbanization in Bangladesh has increased to a great extent. Due to the rapid growth of urbanization, the size of the population of some of the large CCs or Pourashavas has superseded the total population of any district. For instance, the Mayor of Dhaka South and North CCs or Chittagong of the other CCs have few times larger constituency than the population of an electoral constituency to a set of the Parliament. Thus, political significance of these mayors is quite high. The importance of elections in a democracy is immense as people’s representatives get elected through this process that is given the responsibility of governing the citizens. Thus, in most cases elections in urban-local bodies are held in a festive mode with high level of voter turnout rate. Political parties have changed their attitude toward local elections and local government in the recent past. Although CC elections are held on a nonparty basis, partisan election for the post of the Mayor of Pourashavas and Chairs of Union Parishads has been introduced very recently in Bangladesh. Although the CC election is held on nonpartisan manner, in reality, parties nominate their candidates for the post of the mayors and councilors openly. The CC election is considered by different parties as a mechanism to assess their organizational strength, measuring the level of public support, and as an opportunity to establish control over the main urban centers that could play a potential role in influencing the national politics (EWG 2013). Thus, parties nominate high-profile candidates in big CCs like Dhaka North and South CCs and Chittagong. The Mayor ofDCC used to enjoy the status of a Cabinet Minister, while the other city mayors used to enjoy the status of a State Minister, earlier. However, after the elections of 2013, the mayors of CC have not been given the status of either a Minister or a State Minister.

Thus, urban governance has an important role to play in the urban political spectrum as the life of city dwellers is affected by the ideas and thoughts. Truly, it has the potential to influence different issues of the central government.

Thus, all major political parties try their best to win the election of the mayors by investing the efforts of the central leaderships and other necessary materials. The five CC elections that took place in 2013 were very critical for both the AL and the BNP. A clear margin win was important for the AL in order to measure the popularity of its government. On the other hand, by winning CC elections, the BNP was eager to establish the fact that the government has lost its popularity. The involvement of all major political parties in the CC election made a grand success, ensuring an overall voter turnover of more than 60 percent.3 And, those elections were highly praised by the election observant as free, fair, and credible (Election Working Group 2013).

The party nominees for the mayoral position in each of the cities have long-term party loyalties. Even, some of them are senior central leaders of each party. There are incidents that some candidates have prior administrative experiences meaning that the government nominated them as mayors for considerable years. For instance, Mohiuddin Ahmed of Chittagong CCs and Mijanur Rahman Minu of Rajshahi CC served as the city mayors for long before they got elected as the mayors.

When it concerns the number of candidates, available data suggested that 33 candidates contested for the post of mayors.4 Except some incidents of tension and violence, the election was generally peaceful and credible. In 17 percent of polling stations, there were some degree of tension around polling stations, while the rate was approximately 10 percent in Gazipur and Sylhet. However, the degree of tension was very low in Barishal and Khulna. Although some sporadic incidents were reported, the situation did not go beyond control. It was reported that less than 3.8 percent of all observed polling stations were threatened. Although people were threatened, it was observed that there were several instances of violation of the code of conduct of the electoral rules (Election Working Group 2013).

For instance, it was reported that a state minister personally got involved in the election in support of a councilor candidate, despite the fact that including cabinet ministers, state ministers, deputy ministers, or minister-ranked persons are not permitted to take part in the election campaign. Another dimension is that persons are not permitted to use government vehicles for campaigning purposes. However, it was reported that a mayoral candidate in Rajshahi was issued a notice by the returning officer for violation of this rule. However, nothing was done excepting issuance of the notice. The Election Code of Conduct provides that candidates are not allowed to use pictures of party leaders on campaign materials. But, this provision was violated by many candidates. For instance, pictures of Khaleda Zia, Sheikh Hasina, and Tareq Zia were found displayed on posters or banners. Returning officers (ROs) or the concerned assistant returning officers (AROs) were found to escape by saying that they were not aware of the displays. However, the situation was quite good in Barisal and Rajshahi where ROs/AROs seemed to be more aware of such incidents. Accordingly, action was taken in 14 cases out of 24 in Barisal, and 18 cases out of 20 in Rajshahi. Actions included oral warnings or notices to remove the illegal campaign materials, and the warnings complied with (Election Working Group 2013).

Another dimension of the CC elections is the domination of male candidates in the mayoral elections. Within the last 8 years, the majority of the contesting candidates excepting Selina Hyat Ivy of Narayangong CC were males. The absence of women candidates in the mayoral election signifies the long-standing underrepresentation of women of Bangladesh in electoral politics and social norms. This has also limited the range of interaction between men and women and the deficiencies of women’s organizations in promoting their members’ interests, but the government policy of reserving a percentage of seats for women in both local and national councils also have the paradoxical effect ofdiscouraging the parties from nominating female candidates for general seats (Ahmed 1995).

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