UZ polls not referendum on nat’l politics: Analysts

UNB, Dhaka :
The multi-phase upazila parishad elections beginning Wednesday should not be seen as a referendum on the national political issues or popularity either of the government or the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, according to two prominent political scientists.
They think if BNP-backed candidates win the majority of the councils it will not mean a popular support to the party’s demand for holding a new general election supervised by a non-partisan caretaker administration.
The analysts, however, said a better performance of the BNP-supported candidates will serve as a boost to the party and its supporters following its failure to resist the January 5 parliamentary polls the opposition boycotted.
Voting will be held in 97 upazilas in the first of the four-phase polls.
The Election Commission has mounted tight security for smooth holding of the polls, including deployment of the army.
Ali Riaz, Professor and Chair of the Department of Politics and Government,
 Illinois State University in the U.S. does not see the upazila polls as a referendum on national politics.
“These elections have almost nothing to do with the national political mood,” he told UNB by phone. “It’s unequivocally No.”
Prof Riaz said voters are well aware that the upazila leaders have no power to influence the national policies; therefore, national politics will not be on their mind when they vote.
Riaz’s views are echoed by Prof Dr Harun-or-Rashid of Dhaka University Political Science Department.
In an interview with UNB Prof. Harun said upazila elections and parliamentary elections must not be mixed up even though upazila elections have political significance too.
“If BNP wins majority, it will be a boost to them…that will definitely enhance its position. However, I don’t think this will have any immediate bearing on the demand for early elections,” he said. “There can be a kind of indirect influence, at best.”
Prof Ali Riaz said the winning party will sure try to use the results as a rejection of their rivals.
“Until I see exit poll data to support these claims, I’ll continue arguing that local elections are not referendum on national issues or party choices,” he said.
Responding to a question, Riaz said upazila and national elections are different. “I don’t think these two are related.”
Usually, he said, national issues do not feature prominently in local elections rather local political dynamics play the key role, he said.
Riaz observed that local elections in the past, particularly upazila elections, were not dominated by issues – national or otherwise. Instead candidates’ personal appeal seems to be the deciding factor.
On this Prof Harun-or-Rashid also agreed saying he does not think that national politics will dominate elections. “Much will depend on local issues and candidates.”
Asked whether the upazila elections will draw greater turnout as a sign of venting people’s feelings, Prof Ali Riaz said, “I don’t think that upazila elections will have more turnout due to flawed parliamentary elections held on January 5.”