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Local government practice in Bangladesh: A perspective

Dhaka, Mon, 16 Jun 2008 Kazi Mohoshin Al Abbas

Since independence in 1971, Bangladesh has run by only four democratically elected political governments. It is well known to all that Bangabandhu Sheikh Muzibur Rahman, the father and the founder of the nation, was arrested by the invader Pakistani Army just after his declaration of independence of Bangladesh at the early hour of 26th March, 1971. After a 9-month-long bleeding-war on Dec 16, 1971, Bangladesh finally emerged as a sovereign, independent state in the globe. Though Bangladesh became independent in 1971, the country got the bureaucracy and local government system as a legacy of British rule and Pakistani regime.

In today’s world, when equal development in all parts of a country is concerned, the local government is an essential part of good governance. This notion is almost accepted by all scholars related to the discipline of political science of government and politics.

Bangladesh has a legacy of Union Parishad (UP), the grassroots level local body and Municipalities, known as Pourashava, the manager of rural town or urban area. These local bodies are non-political in character from their establishment. After a long time 6 big cities emerged in the country and government constituted 6 City Corporation those are led by elected Mayors assisted by a number of elected Commissioners in decision making process.

It is mentionable that UP and Pourashavas are led by elected Chairmen and assisted by member and commissioners respectively. In mid-70s of last century one party system was imposed and a tier of local government was introduced in district level which was known as Jila Parishad (district council). This level of local body was furnished by an appointed governor to govern the activities. Jila Parishad was abolished by the military ruler Ziaur Rahman, who was also the founder of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) presently one of the major political party of Bangladesh.

In the 1980s, at the time of military rule, another layer of local bodies, the Upazila Parishad (sub-district council) was introduced in the country which was governed by an elected Chairman. The introducer of this layer local government, the military autocrat Hussein Muhammad Ershad, was also founder of a political party, the Jatio Party, which had representation in parliament, after his down fall in 1990 by a peoples upsurge. This local body level was stopped by BNP government in 1991 and till today the activities is suspended though there is a legislation to run Upazila Parishad with elected Chairman and Council Members. With this, anyone could say that Bangladesh is a fertile land of research on local government any way.

As the representatives of local bodies always been elected without political flavour, though personally most of them are related to the political parties, they have a less loyalty to the party the person belongs to. In most cases, the local government representatives protected the interest of central government; mostly they had supported the tyranny, as for example, the military ruler Ayub Khan of 60s, Ziaur Rahman of 70s and Ershad of 80s of 20th century was supported by most local government leaders. There is a term popularly used in the political arena of Bangladesh that is ALWAYS in GOVERNMENT PARTY.

Recently the military backed interim government takes an initiative to strengthen the local bodies and again they are keen to keep the non-political character of the bodies. Anyone can engage in a debate that which one is better for democracy and development, the political local government system or a non political one. But another could be able to put enough logic in favour of political or non political pattern. The government is going to proclaim legislation within a short period in this regard.

In my view, we should go through the history of local government to analyze the character and look through the practice of stable democracy. Rather I would advocate for a political local government system. At least the pivotal leadership of the party concerned will be a little bit liable for a miss-did of a local leader. Otherwise ALWAYS GOVERNMENT PARTY practice will remain in the local body system and it will make a pavement to escape for local leaders for their wrong doing.

If we summon up last 20 years of practice in Bangladesh; local government elections were officially non-political but practically very much political in nature. And, of course, horse trading was a regular practice, especially at the rule of military regime. Moreover, most of the local bodies of the developed countries are represented by political identity and there is no problem with the system.

Truly the people of Bangladesh are a little hyper about politics. People take part in the local government election mainly driven by political affiliation and some of party members take opportunity to stand against their party met in the name of NON POLITICAL ELECTION, which is not a proper action, rather it is a reflection of intra-party conflict. As a practice, it is of course a malpractice. Any malpractice should be stopped.

- The author of this article is a senior Political Analyst and Free lance writer on National and International issues based in Dhaka Bangladesh -

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