Rangpur City Corporation (RCC) election is going to be the litmus test for the upcoming general elections because this will be the last local elections before the general election. Political parties will be able to assess the Election Commission’s (EC) ability to hold a free and fair election and, after months of dialogues, see any of their recommendations has been taken into account, not to mention the fact that this local election might be able to gauge the grassroots popularity of the political parties in play, mainly the Awami League (AL) and the BNP.
Political parties including the BNP-led 20-party alliance and the ruling Awami League-led 14-party alliance are gearing up for the RCC elections on December 21 to see if they really do have an equal playing field, making the EC’s ability to hold a free and fair election the focal point of discussion.
Sources at the EC said these local elections are a big challenge because they have to prove their credibility through them. The EC is currently preparing to conduct elections in six city corporations before the general election.
During the dialogues, the BNP demanded the army be deployed during local elections but the EC said there was no need because law enforcement is good enough to secure a free and fair election.
Election Commission’s acting secretary Helaluddin Ahmad said the law enforcement agencies such as the police, RAB, BGB, the coast guard will be on duty during the Rangpur City elections. They will have a discussion with them to find risky areas that need more protection and deploy them accordingly.
However, he said that the army may be deployed during the general elections, if the need arises.
Helaluddin said electronic voting machines (EVMs) will be used for the first time on a trial basis during the Rangpur elections; they will first survey all the wards before deciding which one gets to use them.
EC’s Rafiqul Haque said that they are working to ensure a level playing field by following the rules and regulations for holding an election the results of which will be acceptable to everyone as credible.
He denied that the EC has any political affiliation, saying they only follow the guidelines of the constitution.
BM Mozammel Huq, organising secretary of Awami League, said they will finalise the list of their candidates after a meeting on November 12, but the final list of nominees will be decided by the party’s local government selection board.
Rashidul Alam, adviser and member of local government/municipal and Union Parishad selection board of Awami League, however, does not think the RCC will be a litmus test for the general elections. He said: “This is a local election and the RCC election would not affect the general election because the mechanism, voters and agendas are different in these two elections.”
BNP Vice-Chairman Mohammad Shajahan told the Dhaka Tribune that as a big political party BNP has many candidates but at the end of the day the party chief will decide on the final candidates for the Rangpur elections.
BNP standing committee member Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury said the party believes this election has the power to change the ones in power. “BNP has always participated in elections except for that one time on January 5, 2014. We will closely watch the RCC elections,” Khasru said.
RCC election on December 21
The last date for submission of nomination papers is November 22.
The last date of withdrawal of nomination is December 3. Aspiring mayors and councillors will have to file their nominations by November 22 for official scrutiny of their documents between November 25 and 26.
The date for symbol allocation has been set for December 4.
EC’s acting secretary Helaludin said the decision was taken at a meeting of the commission and the schedule for the RCC elections will be announced on November 5.
Meanwhile, it was learnt that EVMs will be used at one polling centre on a trial basis and CCTV cameras will be installed at all important polling centres in Rangpur city.
RCC election was first held on December 20, 2012. It ended peacefully with a high turnout, which Returning Officer Monirul Islam initially estimated at 80%.
Tight security was in place, with at least 4,500 members of law enforcement agencies carrying out their duties to maintain law and order.