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UPAZILA COUNCILS

Tenure completed without women members

Taib Ahmed

The third Upazila councils have completed their full five-year tenure without having women members as the Election Commission could not hold elections for over 1,500 reserved posts for women members in Upazila Parishads.
Reviving the Upazila council system after one-and-a-half decades to strengthen the local government bodies, the third elections to Upazila councils were held on January 22 in 2009, but the EC did not hold elections to women members during the five-year tenure.
The EC has attributed its failures to hold the polls to not having electoral rules in this regard while rights activists said negligence and apathy of the authorities concerned were the reasons for not holding the polls.
Observers said it was proved that the promise of the country’s leadership to empower women was nothing but merely rhetoric.
The EC often blamed non-enactment of Upazila election rules as well as the local government ministry for not expediting the process for holding the polls to the women’s reserved seats.
In 2010, the then election commissioners said that they would hold the polls shortly after the completion of the election to the municipalities and Union Parishads, but after the UP elections in 2011 the commission started saying that it was not yet able to hold the polls due to ‘legal complexities’.
Then the Election Commission started work on framing Upazila election rules on the basis of the Upazila Parishad (amended) Act 2009 and sent the rules to the law ministry for
vetting.
After a procrastinated process, the Upazila election rule was passed in March 2013 and the commission finally took initiatives to hold the polls to reserved women’s seats in the local government body.
‘We could not hold the polls due to the non-enactment of Upazila election rules. But when we got the rules in 2013, by then the commission got engaged in making preparations for the 10th parliamentary polls,’ EC secretary Muhammed Sadique told New Age.
He, however, said it was the local government ministry which is responsible for making arrangements for the polls by deciding the number of the women members in each Upazila in line with the Upazila Parishad law and delimit their areas.
According to the Upazila Parishad law, the number of reserved women members in an Upazila would be one-third of the total number of Union Parishads and municipalities under its jurisdiction.
For instance, if there are nine municipalities and Union Parishads in an Upazila, the number of reserved seats for women members would be three.
According to the local government ministry, there are a total of 4,498 Union Parishads and 315 municipalities in the country.
When approached, election commissioner Shah Nawaz said that the commission has already written to the local government ministry asking it to delimit the areas of jurisdiction of the women members and to fix their number in each Upazila.
EC’s assistant secretary Ashfakur Rahman, who is in charge of looking after the Upazila election affairs, said the local government ministry was delimiting the areas for polls to women members of Upazila.
Election commissioner Shah Nawaz said the commission would hold the polls to the reserved member posts for women shortly after the completion of the ensuing 4th Upazila Parishad polls.
When approached, local government expert Dr Tofail Ahmed said, ‘It is unwarranted and unexpected.  Though there was a scope, neither EC nor the local government ministry took initiative to hold the polls.’
‘Women were deprived of their rights,’ he noted.
Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers’ Association executive director Salma Ali said completion of a full tenure without electing the stipulated woman members was a ‘gross violation of women rights.’ 
With the tenures of about 490 Upazila councils expiring in different time ranging from February to August this year, the EC is holding the polls to the posts of Upazila chairman and vice-chairman.
The first Upazila polls were held in 1985 while the second and third in 1990 and 2009 respectively.




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