The election of two Dhaka City Corporations is going to be held on Feb 1. Though initially it was scheduled to be held on Jan 30, due to a major festival of the Hindu community, Saraswati Pooja, it was shifted. The mayoral and councillor candidates are running their campaigns in full pace as this year’s city corporation election has brought huge festivity in all areas of Dhaka city. The roads are all covered with festoons, banners and posters of the candidates. The environment is filled with loud innovative songs praising the candidates. In the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) election, seven candidates are vying for the mayoral post, while 355 for 75 ward councillors’ posts, and 82 for 25 reserved women councillors’ posts. For Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) six mayor candidates, 251 candidates for 54 ward councillors’ posts, and 77 candidates for 18 reserved women councillors’ posts are contesting in the polls.
Activists and supporters of the candidates are passing a very busy time as they are trying to reach out to the voters every day. The candidates are also making big promises though many of these are out of their reach and require even national level decisions. From all aspects, this election is very important and the candidates seem also very serious. But unfortunately the people seem to remain on the sideline as not their welfare rather the might, influence and identity of the candidates remain at the core of this whole campaign.
Every leader of this country should work for the welfare of the people. There should be focus on bringing good to the community. These mayoral and councillor candidates were in important roles of different political parties and organizations for a long time. But most of them failed to do anything good for the people in those roles. Now, they are looking for the mandate of the people and making great promises which make them look like the answers to all our troubles and sufferings. But none of them till now provided any concrete plan to promote people’s welfare. They are even not showing any concern to the sufferings of the people during their electoral campaign and hence we cannot expect much from them after the election.
In every society or community of Dhaka city, the roads are filled with huge number of posters and banners of the candidates. The look of the streets has become pathetic. Along with unplanned digging of roads everywhere, dusts and bad smells in the air and severe sound pollution, this unusual decoration of the roads are looking very ugly and not at all pleasant for the eyes of the citizens. The candidates have opened their temporary offices and campaign zones even on the roads causing huge traffic congestion making the lives of the mass a living hell.
Moreover, the loud music praising the candidates from trucks, pickups, vans, rickshaws are intolerable. Even the hospital or school adjacent areas are not spared from such extreme sound pollution. Children are preparing for their secondary school certificate exam from Feb 3. But in many areas, it has become impossible to concentrate on study due to irritating campaign noise. The voters or in a broader sense the people are already being tortured by the mayoral and councillor candidates and it is impossible to believe that these leaders will think about the welfare of his or her community after getting elected.
The Election Commission (EC) also showed anti-people oriented attitude in this election. The Hindu community is the second largest religious community of Bangladesh and ‘Saraswati Pooja’ is one of their major celebrations. We cannot expect them to be present in the polling centres forgetting the festival. It could have been never possible to hold an election on an ‘Eid’ day in this Muslim majority country. But the EC showed no commitment to the Hindu voters. They even said that the election is also as holy as this religious festival and both can run on the same day. It was totally unacceptable. Several protests had to be staged along with hunger strike to move them from this decision.
We can understand that due to their questionably busy schedule, they could not identify the clash between the polling day and the religious festival day of the Hindu community. But as soon as it was identified, they should have changed the date. But they remained unmoved despite the government’s and all party candidates’ statement that they will have no issue if the date is shifted. Last few elections were pretty much under question for low presence of voters or lack of people’s participation and this act of EC creates questions if participation of people and especially that of the Hindu community is required at all.
Following the trend of the past few elections, this time also the candidates of different political parties are engaged in blame game. They are alleging their rival candidates’ activists for attacking them, vandalizing their campaigns and terrorizing their voters. Especially candidates from the largest opposition party of the country Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) candidates are mostly making such allegations. The ruling party Awami League’s candidates also raised several such accusations. These might be or might not be true if we investigate each allegation but the candidates are very vocal on such statements. The concern is they are playing their own games keeping the people or the voters on the sideline.
The voters today are not concerned if one party candidate is vandalizing the campaign of the other party candidate. They need solid commitment from all party candidates. They need the right to choose the one they think will work for them the most. The people are not bound to vote for someone who most certainly will not work for people’s welfare. It is not the duty of the people to put someone on the chair. The ward councillors were found involved in several crimes, corruption, and money laundering etc. during the last few decades. The services to the people were mostly ignored. The services and commitment of the candidates are most important for the voters and for that, the backgrounds of these candidates are very important to judge.
As the law enforcers have found so many ward councillors involved in all sorts of crimes after the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordered a crackdown on corruption, it was expected that uncorrupted sacrificing leaders will get the nominations this time. But this was not the actual scenario. Though many known corrupt but influential leaders of the ruling party Awami League did not receive nominations this time, unfortunately we cannot be happy about the new choices in most cases. For BNP and Jatiyo Party, the scenario is fiercer. At least Awami League took a step forward, but they did not show any mentionable changes.
It is important for these political parties to nominate the candidates who hold the most power, money and terror to clinch the victory in the polls. In this process, they forget the role to bring in good candidates with excellent honest track record and people oriented attitude. It will be very hard to find out candidates whom the people will identify as ‘good men’. If there is any, the people are certain he will not win and there is no point in voting for them. It is a really harmful practice for the development of Bangladesh.
The voters should ask for concrete plans from the mayoral and councillor candidates for the development and improvement of his or her constituency. That should be a document containing short, mid and long term plans with work specific action plan. Those who will fail to provide such plans should be rejected on the polling day. The tenure of a mayor or a councillor is not very long. There will be no time to learn and understand the issues after getting the chair. There will be even no time to sketch a plan after getting elected. They must have the plans prior to deciding on their possible candidacy.
After getting elected, there should only be actions and implementations. Commitments like changing the face of Dhaka or turning Dhaka into a historic city or solving all problems of the voters of my constituency – are just lame and must be rejected. The candidates should sit with representatives from each road of a ward to present their plans and they can add to their plans after getting the feedbacks from these representatives. The fate of the people must change after this election. People’s welfare must be on the top of every agenda.
The tenure of the new mayors and councillors are going to be the very significant as the nation will celebrate the 100th birth anniversary of father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and also the 50 year of our independence. The government and different organizations have planned for many large programs to celebrate these two significant days for Bangladesh. If the mayors and councillors cannot ensure comfort for the citizens, then these arrangements will be distant from the people. Moreover, considering the importance of these days, the new mayors and councillors should adopt the principles of people orientation at their core with utmost importance.
We hope the mayoral and councillor candidates irrespective of their political identity will uphold the principles of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as both of them proved their commitment to the people and development of this country on multiple occasions. If they do so, the people of Dhaka city will receive a chance of a great future. We just want the people to win on Feb 1.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)