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Poura polls: Ill-matched enthusiasm?

Shamsul Huq Zahid | Published: December 27, 2015 22:04:59 | Updated: October 24, 2017 00:39:31


Any type of polling, be at the local or national levels, does always generate enthusiasm among the people in this country. Voters love casting their votes. Very often they get cheated by the people they elect as their representatives to the local government institutions or to parliament with high expectations. 
Yet they do not lose faith in balloting. With renewed enthusiasm they cast their votes whenever they get an opportunity. The election frauds and the absence of any of the major contenders for power at the centre do create frustration among them and that is, at times, manifested in their poor participation in the polling. 
The Pourshava (municipality) polls this year are unique in the sense that, for the first time in the country's history, candidates for the post of chairmen of pourashavas are being allowed to contest under the banners of political parties. Such partial politicisation has added a flavour to this year's municipal polls. On top of it, the participation of the BNP, one of the key contenders for power, has made the polls far more exciting. 
But amidst all the excitement and enthusiasm, participating political parties, contestants and voters are not that sure about the peaceful holding of the December 30 poura polls. 
Had BNP abstained from the polls, in most places, the fight would have been between the ruling Awami League nominated candidates and its 'rebel' candidates. BNP too is facing the problem of 'rebel' candidates. In fact, in some Pourashavas, the fight will be quadrangular. 
Already there were a number of violent clashes between the supporters of rival candidates during the polls campaign. The Election Commission, which enjoys extensive power during the poll times, has not been decisive in its actions against the violation of polls conduct, particularly by the ruling party's local level honchos and candidates. Some people consider the EC to be a weak and inactive constitutional entity. Its past roles, irrespective of regimes, are prompting the people to arrive at such a conclusion. 
But should there be any display of great enthusiasm over poura polls? What good the poura mayors and the councilors can deliver to their respective electorates under the prevailing state of affairs with most pourashavas? 
Pourshavas or municipalities are part of an array of elected local government (LG) institutions that, according to the Article 59 of the country's Constitution, would carry out functions relating to local administration and work of the public officers, maintain public order and prepare and implement plans relating to public services and economic development of their respective areas of jurisdiction. And the Article 60 asks parliament to confer powers on the local government bodies through an act so that the latter can carry out functions as delineated in the Article 59.  The power of the LG bodies includes imposition of taxes for local purposes and preparation and implementation of their own budgets.
But the reality is that that the LG bodies are lame duck entities, in terms of both administrative and financial powers. Except for imposing holding tax and collecting trade licence fees they do not have any notable source of revenue income. The LG bodies, it seems, have been deliberately kept dependent on the central government's dole. Without grants coming from the central government on an annual basis, all LG bodies including the pourashavas would limp, financially. But the amount that is made available as grant is highly inadequate. The large part of it goes on meeting the administrative expenses. What is left is found highly insufficient to take up projects and programmes worth mentioning. 
What is more troubling is that the government on occasions discriminates while allocating annual grants to LG bodies. It tends to hold back grant funds on different pretext for pourshavas or upazila parishads where men at the helm belong to rival political parties. Instances are there where locally influential ruling party men were given the responsibility of spending the development grants bypassing the elected poura mayors or upazila chairmen. 
Moreover, the independence of the people's elected representatives in the local government bodies has been greatly curtailed by a draconian law under which the government can suspend or remove any of them at will. The government can victimise any elected representative in the LG bodies if it wants to. A number of city corporation mayors, belonging to the opposition BNP, allegedly, have fallen victim to the government's whims. 
When voting comes, be it at the national or local levels, there remains no dearth of enthusiasm, if it remains an all-party affair. But electorates, in most cases, get disappointed by what is delivered by the people they elect every time. Yet such disappointment cannot anyway hold back their enthusiasm when fresh election comes. It would be, however, better for them to review the performance of the people they elect and raise demand, through their elected representatives, for strengthening and empowering the LG bodies in line with the constitutional provisions. 
zahidmar10@gmail.com  
 

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