Bangladesh’s political parties are currently incredibly triggered as they prepare for the 12th National Election, which is set for January 7, 2024. However, the political parties have not even released their election manifestos as of yet. Our people apparently are not worried about the manifestos to come out which enables them to compare the promises made by the various political parties to determine which one will best fulfill their needs. Voters should research this election manifesto before heading to the polls since in a democracy it can be very important, especially if we dream of a progressive Bangladesh.
Election manifestos are very important in developed nations because they allow voters to evaluate the promises made by the various political parties. Manifestos actually set the political agenda that the party will pursue when it comes to power.However, things are very different in developing and least developed nations like Bangladesh. Here people are more likely to follow a party or candidate without question and even fail to take a candidate’s past into account. To hold the leaders responsible, voters need to obtain commitments from them.
Depending on the situation, the electoral manifesto may change over time. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman led the Six Point Movement in 1966, which demanded increased autonomy for East Pakistan in order to put a stop to the West Pakistani rulers’ alleged exploitation of the region. The Awami League fought the 1970 election on that platform. It is clear from these demands that the primary objective that ultimately resulted in our independence in 1971 was the empowerment of the East Pakistani people.
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) announced a 19-point ideology as their election manifesto during the movement to overthrow autocratic ruler HM Ershad and to restore democracy. The ideology included promises of public participation at all levels of government, development initiatives, and law and order maintenance; a stronger rural economy and, consequently, the national economy by prioritizing agricultural development; ensuring the basic needs of the people etc. Since these philosophies were genuinely focused on the needs of people, BNP won that election.
Moreover, the three parties including both BNP and Awami League declared a joined blueprint before the 1990 elections, which worked as the ultimate manifesto. That blueprint was a commitment to restore democracy and to return the power to the people. It was the first successful political movement in the independent Bangladesh. Later prior to the 1996 election, Awami League came up with a people-oriented manifesto and clinched victory in the election. Though BNP had no strong manifesto in the 2001 election, they clinched victory with their allies. If BNP would have executed their 19-point ideology and three-party blueprint of 1990 during their first term and during 2001-2006, then the country would have experienced progressive changes and the current vulnerability in the country might not have existed.
Bangladesh Awami League led 14-party alliance provided a people-oriented election manifesto prior to the 9th national election with five priority issues including maintenance of economic stability and control over commodity price hike; effective action against corruption; power and energy; elimination of poverty and inequity; establishment of good governance. They also had 18 other issues along with significant promises like; building Padma Bridge, making ‘Digital Bangladesh’, ensuring 100% power supply etc. They successfully provided a guideline to the people about what they will do if they are in office.
In the elections of 2014 and 2018 also Awami League provided people-oriented and progressive manifesto which provided the guidelines on how the economic and humane progress will be achieved. But unfortunately, their manifesto did not properly reach the people and the young generation could not connect. Though they included the progressive journey of a developed country by 2041 and even included a 100-year plan, some can argue that, their manifesto is not clear to the mass people as it was not widely communicated.
The Six Point Movement of 1966 was widely communicated among the people and everyone related to those demands in the 1970 election. But after our independence and especially after restoring democracy in 1990, the election manifestos of different political parties are not widely circulated. It should be published at least one year prior to the election in a booklet form. The political parties should do everything to reach the people with their manifestos. This manifesto can be of two types – a central one with commitments to national issues and a local one with commitments to the issues of a constituency.
Notably, election manifesto should provide a clear picture to the people about what a political party will do when in office on three different timelines – the first 100 days, the first year and the whole five-year term. The manifesto can also provide a further long-term vision. But the people must relate to the promises made in the manifesto.
BNP and its allies, during the elections of 2008, 2014 and 2018, did not come up with a manifesto related to the people. Since 2008, BNP and its allies are only focusing on the election environment suitable for them to regain power. Regrettably, BNP is carrying out a political movement right now without any people-oriented agenda. If they cannot come up with a progressive manifesto, they will not be able to connect with the people and that is happening right now.
There are many parties other than Awami League and BNP and many of them are very vocal. But most of these parties do not come up with an election manifesto and even if they do, nobody knows. These politically vocal small parties must try to connect with the people with their own manifestos.Inopportunely, the demands of our opposition parties are similar for decades as they are fighting for a free, fair and credible election. But if their demands are not followed by commitment to the people, then there is no point of such fair election.
It is very important that, our political parties produce well thought, progressive, nationalist and realistic election manifestos. Most importantly, the election manifestos should ensure inclusion of the measures to deliver the basic rights of the people as our citizens are currently struggling to meet their ends. The political parties must portray their plans to ensure quality and adequate food, clothing, housing, medical care and education for the people. Unless the basic needs are met, we cannot focus on other esteem issues and cannot plan for a progressive Bangladesh.
Unfortunately, the people of Bangladesh along with our political leaders and activists do not dream about a progressive Bangladesh. The upper and even middle class dream of their lives abroad. Most of the children of our political leaders and even activists are residing abroad. Hence, their dream of a progressive Bangladesh is lacking. We need both leaders and voters, who will dream of a better Bangladesh and that dream should be portrayed in the election manifestos of the political parties.
Bangladesh has developed fast during the last decade and the new generations of voters are very much aware in this era of digitalization. But unfortunately, our voters are losing interest in politics and polls. The election manifesto should focus on these new generation voters so that they can relate and participate willingly in the elections. The political parties or candidates should widely campaign based on their manifestos and the citizens should go through these documents before voting any particular party or candidate.
Our citizens should be careful in comparing the election manifestos of different political parties. They should also judge if the earlier governments performed on their promises. If so, it will set a practice of accountability and transparency. We believe the Bangladeshi citizens will elect leaders who will work only for people’s welfare and country’s progress. Most importantly, the voters should hit the polling centers in masses holding the dream of a superior Bangladesh.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA) and Editor at Kishore Bangla