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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Is South Korea turning Japanese?

South Korea’s recent economic performance has been disappointing. After 40 years of astonishing 7.9 per centannual GDP (gross domestic product) growth, the average growth rate dropped to 4.1 per centin 2000-2010, and has stood at a mere 3 per centsince 2011. This has many wondering whether South Korea is headed for the kind of protracted deflation and stagnation that characterized Japan’s so-called “lost decades,” from which it is just beginning to emerge.
The similarities between South Korea today and Japan 20 years ago are undeniable. And, in fact, on economic matters, South Korea has, for better or worse, often followed Japan’s example. In this case, Japan’s example can save South Korea—if, that is, South Korea’s leaders take it as a lesson in what not to do.
Japan’s woes are rooted in real-estate and equity bubbles, which were fueled by monetary expansion aimed at stimulating domestic demand after the 1985 Plaza Accord drove up the yen’s value and hurt Japan’s exports. In the early 1990s, the bubbles burst, leaving the private sector with a huge debt overhang. Add to that sluggish productivity growth, weak demand, and rapid population aging, and Japan’s situation was dire.
At first, Japan’s authorities turned again to fiscal and monetary expansion. But fiscal policies often targeted unproductive projects, such as rural infrastructure, and weaknesses in the banking system dampened the effectiveness of monetary stimulus. As a result, the economy grew by just 1.1%, on average, in the 1990s, far below the 4.5 per centof the 1980s.
In the early 2000s, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s government took aggressive action to tackle problems in the financial and corporate sectors. Despite these efforts—not to mention the boost provided by rapid GDP growth in China, Japan’s economy expanded by just 0.75 per centannually, on average, for the entire decade.
Things have been looking up since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in 2012 and launched his three-pronged recovery strategy, dubbed “Abenomics,” which entailed bold monetary easing, fiscal expansion, and structural reforms. Stock prices have climbed more than 80%. The yen’s depreciation—from ¥78 to ¥123 against the US dollar—has boosted exports of industrial products and, in turn, corporate profitability. Consequently, employment and wages have also increased.
Now, Abe is preparing to augment these efforts with initiatives to address major drags on Japan’s economy. So-called “Abenomics 2.0” entails efforts to raise the fertility rate (free preschool education, support for fertility treatments, and assistance for single-parent families) and to mitigate problems associated with population aging (boosting social security and providing more employment opportunities for retirees).
But Japan’s economy is by no means out of the woods. On the contrary, GDP contracted by 0.1 per centlast year, and is expected to grow by just 0.6 per centthis year. Moreover, despite continued purchases of ¥80 trillion per year in government bonds, the Bank of Japan has failed to achieve its 2 per centinflation target. And Japan’s public debt-to-GDP ratio, at 240%, remains the highest in the world.
And Abenomics 2.0 may not succeed, not least because young people, unconvinced that they can support larger families, are increasingly delaying marriage and children. Against this background, many believe that preventing the population of 127 million from falling below 100 million—Abe’s official goal—will require Japan to accept more immigrants. Simply put, while Japan has some reason for hope, its position is not enviable. And, if South Korea is not careful, it could end up in much the same place.
Employing many of the same development strategies—including export-oriented policies and a conglomerate-dominated industrial system—South Korea has been catching up with Japan for four decades. Its per capita income (in terms of purchasing power parity), just one-fifth of Japan’s in 1970, amounts to almost 95 per centof Japan’s today. Over the same period, South Korea’s share of global exports jumped from 0.3 per centto 3%—very close to Japan’s 3.6%.
To be sure, significant differences between the two countries remain. South Korea still lags behind Japan in international influence and institutional quality. South Korea ranks 26th on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index, whereas Japan ranks sixth. Based on the gap in GDP per worker with that of the US, South Korea is more than 20 years behind Japan.
Nonetheless, the reality is that South Korea has been experiencing many of the same problems Japan did in the early 1990s, including high levels of household and corporate debt, labor- and financial-market inefficiencies, and low productivity in the service sector. Given a fertility rate of just 1.2 births per woman—among the lowest in the world—South Korea’s labor force is set to shrink by a quarter by 2050, with people aged 65 and over accounting for 35 per centof the total population, up from 13 per centtoday. This will put serious strain on public budgets.
If South Korea is to avoid Japan’s fate, it must take steps to reduce its household and corporate debt. It also should continue to implement structural reforms aimed at strengthening its labor and financial markets, improving institutional quality, and boosting productivity in services and small and medium-size enterprises.
Taking a cue from Abenomics 2.0, South Korea would do well to provide a better environment for child rearing, including flexible working environments, affordable and high-quality childcare and after-school programs, and paid maternal and paternal leave. Financial support, such as low-interest loans for newlyweds, could also promote marriage and childbirth.
Japan’s lost decades highlight the importance of treating economic ills with the right medicine, before they become chronic and difficult to cure. If South Korea takes this lesson, and implements the right policies and reforms, being like Japan won’t have to mean sharing its economic fate.

Violation of Polls Code by AL Men EC seeks PM's intervention

With the Awami League men continuing to breach the polls code, an election commissioner yesterday sought the prime minister's intervention to check this.
"We want more responsible behaviours from those who are in the government. We want their cooperation ... We would like to request the head of the government to look into the matter," Election Commissioner Shah Nawaz told reporters at the EC Secretariat ahead of the December 30 municipality polls.
Such incidents of violation of the electoral code of conduct will tarnish the government's image and put the Election Commission in an embarrassing situation, he viewed.
With the voting day approaching nearer, many Awami League leaders, including ministers and lawmakers, are allegedly violating the polls code and joining electoral activities.
Besides, there have been allegations that supporters of the AL-nominated candidates brought out motorcade and processions and obstructed campaigns of the rival candidates.
The election commissioner said, "We urge them to kindly cooperate with us."
"Such activities will eventually adversely affect the government's image ... So, we would like to request you (AL men) not to create a situation that may embarrass both you and us," he added.
Shah Nawaz also warned the returning officers of actions of actions against them if the polls-code violators are spared.
"We think that returning officers are not taking adequate actions in comparison to the number of alleged violations."
CHATKHIL COMPLAINT 'FALSE'
The EC has, meanwhile, found false the allegation that a BNP-backed mayor candidate in Noakhali's Chatkhil municipality was forced by the ruling party men to withdraw his nomination paper.
Following this, the commission formed an inquiry committee which submitted its report yesterday, saying the allegation was not true, according to EC sources.
BNP Joint Secretary General Mahbub Uddin Khokon filed the complaint with the EC last week.
He wrote that supporters of the AL-backed candidate on December 13 forced the BNP's mayor contender to sign the withdrawal form at gunpoint and submitted it on their own.
MORE ALLEGATIONS, 'SCANT'
EC ACTIONS
Lawmakers Safiqul Islam Shimul (Natore-2) and MA Malek (Dhaka-20) accompanied AL-nominated mayor candidates while the latter were submitting nomination papers in their respective municipalities on December 3.
Another ruling party MP, Shawkat Hasnur Rahman (Barguna-2), took a mayor contender to Barguna from Dhaka in his car the same day.
The EC on December 6 issued show cause notices to the three and the lawmakers later apologised for their actions.
Health Minister Mohammad Nasim and AL-endorsed mayoral aspirant in Sirajganj municipality on December 16 delivered speeches at a Victory Day rally that eventually became a campaign procession, according to media reports.
Besides, MPs Atiur Rahman (Sherpur-1), Enamul Haque (Rajshahi-4) and Anwarul Abedin Khan (Mymensingh-9) sought vote for 'boat' symbols at Victory Day programmes in their respective areas that day.
In Chatmohar municipality of Pabna, AL lawmaker Mokbul Hossain (Pabna-3) at a meeting on December 14 campaigned for the party-backed mayor candidate.
In Barguna municipality, AL-blessed mayor hopeful Kamrul Ahsan brought out a procession with several hundred party men on December 15 night, halting vehicular movement.
And yesterday, AL-sponsored mayor contender Anisur Rahman in Sreepur municipality of Gazipur brought out a procession, halting public and vehicular movement. Earlier on Thursday, he brought out a procession of around 50 motorcycles, according to media reports.
The code of conduct bars MPs from joining any sort of election activities and candidates from campaigning by obstructing public movement.
In the last one and a half weeks, the EC sent directives to the ROs of around 40 municipalities to investigate the allegations of electoral code breach.
And at a meeting on Saturday, the commission expressed dissatisfaction at the ROs' role and ordered them to take actions against the perpetrators.
However, an election expert thinks that the EC has more roles to play to check such incidents.
"It will be difficult to control the situation if the commission depends solely on the returning officers. Rather, it should proactively exert its legal power to check code violations," former election commissioner M Sakhawat Hussain told The Daily Star.

The Independent, 30 December 2015
All eyes on polls today
Voters look forward to historic election under party symbols
STAFF REPORTER
The Election Commission (EC) has completed all necessary preparations to hold elections in 234 municipalities across the country today, amid apprehensions of violence, with a third of the polling centres being identified as risky.
This is the first time that the local body elections will be held with political symbols, which has generated an immense amount of interest among the voters. Twenty political parties, including the ruling Awami League (AL) and its main rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), have nominated their candidates in the polls.
Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad urged the voters to cast votes in the poling centres without any fear as a peaceful atmosphere will prevail.
He also directed the law enforcers to carry out the state responsibilities without any partiality during election, and warned action, otherwise.
The CEC at a press conference at the EC secretariat yesterday also sought cooperation of the political parties, candidates and mass media to assist to conduct a fair election.
Although apparently it is only the mayoral elections to the municipalities, this will boil down to a fight between the AL and the BNP, and will serve as the litmus test of their popularity in the field.
Twenty political parties have nominated 659 mayoral candidates. Apart from this, 285 Independent candidates are also in the fray for the mayoral posts. Seven mayoral candidates of the ruling AL have already been elected unopposed.
Among the political parties, the AL has nominated 233 mayoral candidates, BNP 223, Jatiya Party 74, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal 21, National People’s Party 17, Islami Andolon Bangladesh 57, Jatiya Party (M) six, Communist Party of Bangladesh four, Bangladesh Islami Front three, Bangladesh Workers Party eight and Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish four.
Again, the Liberal Democratic Party, Bikalpadhara Bangladesh, Bangladesher Biplobi Workers Party, Islami Oikya Jote, Bangladesh National Awami Party, Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal, Progressive Democratic Party and Bangladesh Tarikat Federation have nominated a single mayoral candidate each.
Nearly 71 lakh voters are ready to cast their votes in 3,555 centres to choose their mayors and councillors. There are 35,52,284 male and 35,46,860 female voters in the polls.
Voting will begin at 8am and continue till 4pm without any break.
A total of 12,171 candidates, including 945 mayoral candidates, 2,480 councillors (reserved) and 8,746 councillors (general), is in the fray. On the other hand, a total of 66,768 policing officers, including 2,555 presiding officers, 21,071 assistant presiding officers and 42,142 poling officers, will administer the election.
The EC said it has taken all-out measures to maintain law and order so as to ensure a peaceful environment for the voters, assuring them that they can go to the centres to cast their ballots without any intimidation.
The commission has deployed a total of 1,17,304 members of law enforcement agencies, including the police, Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), Coast Guard and Ansar.
The EC has deployed 45,000 police personnel, while 9,415 BGB, 8,424 RAB, 225 Coast Guard and 54,240 Ansar personnel will work as mobile and strike forces. The 'general' centres will have 19 law enforcement personnel each, while the 'important' centres will have 20 each.
The BGB has been deployed in 229 municipalities, and the Coast Guard will maintain law and order in six municipalities in the coastal areas. The BGB will remain in the field till December 31 to maintain law and order.


Apart from the law enforcement officials, there will also be executive and judicial magistrates in all the municipalities.
The commission has directed the police to take immediate measures under Section 151 of the Code of Criminal Procedure against any suspicious person who fails to disclose his or her identity.
The EC has also banned the movement of vehicles, including buses, trucks, tempos, private cars, pick-up vans, microbuses, auto-rickshaws and baby taxis in the election areas from yesterday midnight to 12pm today. However, vehicles of observers and journalists can be used, with the permission of the returning officers.
Meanwhile, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal yesterday told mediapersons after a meeting at his office that the law enforcement officials will act in the field in accordance with the directives of the Election Commission.
“There is nothing to be worried about. The law enforcers will function as per the EC’s directives,” he added.
The commission has given its assurance that it would ensure a peaceful atmosphere on the day of polling.
However, violence connected to the elections occurred in some areas, including Jessore, though there was no campaign yesterday.
A polling agent of BNP-backed councillor candidate Mohiuddin of Ward 4 was allegedly injured in an attack carried out by his opponent, Siddiqur Rahman, a candidate of the AL, at a kitchen market adjacent to Shahadat Pilot School polling station.
Meanwhile, the EC withdrew an officer-in-charge of Shahjadpur police station in Sirajganj district, Rezaul Haque, yesterday, for allegedly favouring a mayoral candidate in the municipality polls. Also, lawmaker Gazi MM Amjad Hossain Milon of Sirajganj-3 constituency received a warning for violating the electoral code of conduct.
On the other hand, delegations of both the AL and the BNP met the chief election commissioner at the EC secretariat to express their apprehensions about the elections.
AL joint general secretary Mahbub-ul-Alam Hanif again accused the EC of being harsh with candidates of the ruling party and soft towards BNP candidates with regard to the polls. “Our candidates are being harassed at various places in the country. But the EC is not taking any action against the miscreants as the candidates are of the ruling party. It seems that the commission is kind towards the BNP and has become cruel towards the AL,” he said.
He was speaking to mediapersons after a meeting with the chief election commissioner at the EC secretariat in the capital yesterday at noon.
At a press conference at party president and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Dhanmondi political office, Hanif also called upon the party’s leaders and activists to assist the members of law enforcement agencies deployed to maintain the law and order situation during the voting.
Meanwhile, talking to reporters at the Secretariat, road transport and bridges minister Obaidul Quader yesterday said, “If we are defeated in some municipalities, we will not lose our power, because it is just the local government elections. So, we will not do anything for which the government might feel embarrassed.”
The ruling AL will assist the Election Commission in holding a free, fair and credible election, he added.
The BNP’s standing committee member, Dr Abdul Moyeen Khan, yesterday told reporters at the EC secretariat that the party would welcome the poll results if the voters can cast their votes unhindered and the result sheets are not altered.
Meanwhile, BNP leaders yesterday alleged that mass arrests were taking place silently, along with attacks on party activists, in different areas ahead of the municipal elections across the country.
They also accused police of harassing the polling agents of BNP mayoral candidates, adding that ruling party cadres are threatening them by visiting their homes and telling them not to appear at the polling centres.
Addressing a press briefing, BNP joint secretary general Ruhul Kabir Rizvi claimed that silent drives for carrying out mass arrests and threats to party activists are going on in most of the municipalities—Jamalpur, Joypurhat, Jhalkhathi, Jenaidah, Munsiganj, Khagrachari, Bagerhat, Chuadanga, Patuakhali, Natore, Satkania, Sitakunda, Kotiadi, Naogaon, Narail, Ramgati, Pathoghata, Habiganj, Kulaura and Bhagha.
Meanwhile, addressing a rally on the Supreme Court premises, adviser to BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia, Khandaker Mahbub Hossain, warned that the consequences would be severe if the government tries to manipulate the results of the polls.

Municipal Polls Dec 30

Elections to 234 municipalities will be held on December 30, marking the start of the country's first local government polls on partisan lines.
Announcing the polls schedule yesterday, Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad called upon all political parties to participate in the elections by nominating candidates for mayoral posts.
"The more people take part in the election, the more successful it will be. We urge everyone to participate in the polls," he said at a press conference at the EC Secretariat in the capital.
The election is set to generate heat in the country's political landscape, as the two archrivals -- the ruling Awami League and opposition BNP -- will formally enter the battle of ballots along with other parties.
They will pick their grassroots leaders to vie for mayoral posts with the electoral symbols "boat" and "sheaf of paddy."
Both camps are facing problems though those are different in nature. Media reports say the AL may face intra-party rivalries in the polls. It may also have difficulties in choosing a single candidate for each of the mayoral posts.
On the other hand, the BNP high command is worried about the crackdown on the party's grassroots leaders by law enforcement agencies. It has claimed that around 200 party leaders, who are prospective mayoral candidates, have been detained by law enforcers in recent weeks.
Moreover, many grassroots leaders are either on the run to evade arrest or are inactive fearing police action, say a number of BNP leaders.
The party, however, will have an advantage over the AL because of the new electoral code of conduct. BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia and all her party leaders will be able to participate in election campaigns for party candidates.
But her archrival AL President Sheikh Hasina cannot do so, as she holds the post of PM and enjoys government facilities. Similarly, all her cabinet colleagues and party lawmakers are barred by the code of conduct from carrying out electioneering for party candidates.
As per the electoral code of conduct, the list of individuals enjoying government benefits include the PM, the Speaker, ministers, chief whip, whips, deputy speaker, deputy leader of the House, opposition leader, state ministers, deputy ministers, MPs and mayors of city corporations.
This election will be the first battle of ballots between the two major political parties since the 2008 parliamentary election. The BNP-led alliance boycotted the January 5 parliamentary election in 2014.
In the last municipal elections held between December 2010 and January 2011, the BNP-backed candidates performed better than their opponents supported by the AL. In the polls, BNP-blessed candidates secured 92 mayoral posts while the AL-backed candidates got 88, according to election results of 236 municipalities.
In the 2013 city corporation polls, the BNP-backed candidates won all five mayoral posts in Rajshahi, Khulna, Barisal, Sylhet and Gazipur.
But the BNP-blessed mayoral candidates suffered defeat in the polls to Dhaka and Chittagong city corporations in April this year. 
Till now, all local body polls have been held in a non-partisan manner. Political parties lent their support to grassroots leaders but were not allowed to formally nominate candidates or use the parties' electoral symbols.
Political analysts say the December 30 polls may appear to be a challenge for the Rakibuddin-led EC.
The EC has been mired in controversy since the January 5 parliamentary election. And questions were raised about the fairness of subsequent elections to upazila parishads, and Dhaka and Chittagong city corporations. 
Talking to reporters yesterday, CEC Rakibuddin said adequate security measures would be taken to ensure free and fair elections this time.
"We will take quick steps to resist any anomalies or irregularities during the polls."
Replying to a question, the CEC said a level playing field would be ensured for all candidates. He urged all to follow the electoral code of conduct during electioneering and the polls.
He also asked the aspirants, who put up posters, billboards and banners on streets, to remove all campaign materials within 48 hours, as none is allowed to start election campaign three weeks before the voting day.
There are 323 municipalities across the country. Of those, 234 will go to polls next month as their tenure will expire by February. Elections to the rest will be held later in phases.
In the polls next month, 234 mayoral posts will be up for grabs for party-nominated candidates, while around 3,700 councillor posts will be contested in a non-partisan manner.
Political parties registered with the EC will be able to nominate candidates only for mayoral posts and use the parties' electoral symbols.
Individuals will be allowed to vie for mayoral posts as independent candidates.
The government had initially planned to hold elections for both mayoral and councillor posts on partisan lines. But later, it backtracked, deciding that only the polls for mayoral posts will be held in a partisan manner.
The EC yesterday said political parties willing to contest the polls need to send applications to the returning officers for the municipalities concerned with the names of party-authorised persons who will pick the candidates. Copies of the applications have to be sent to the EC.
An individual willing to vie for a mayoral post as an independent candidate has to send an application to the returning officer for the municipality concerned.
If the individual has never been elected a mayor, he will have to submit a paper with signatures of 100 voters in his area. However, this won't be necessary if the individual already served as a mayor.

The EC yesterday appointed 234 additional district commissioners, district election officers and upazila nirbahi officers as returning officers for conducting the polls.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT POLLS: PARTISAN VS NON-PARTISAN

On October 12, the cabinet approved the drafts of five laws on local governments which will allow registered political parties to nominate candidates in the local body elections. It will also permit the candidates to use party symbols and even the portrait of their party leader(s) while campaigning. Moreover, similar to parliament elections, party leaders and ministers might be allowed to take part in the campaign. 
There are five types of practice for electing or selecting representatives for the local government: (i) no elections are held, local representatives are appointed by the party in power; (ii) elections are held on a partisan basis and candidates compete in the elections as a party candidate; (iii) elections are held on typical non-partisan schemes but parties are allowed to endorse, support and oppose candidates; (iv) elections are totally non-partisan and parties are not allowed to endorse, support and oppose candidates; and (v) elections are held for a few positions while there are reserve seats to be nominated by the government. 
In Malaysia, no local government elections are conducted. During the British rule, local structures were governed by commission members who were appointed by the Governor or High Commissioner of British. However, in 1857 and 1858, municipal elections were held to replace the appointment process and thus, municipal commissioner positions were filled by the elected people. But in 1965, the federal government suspended local government elections due to the emergence of several issues such as the Malaysia-Indonesia confrontation. Therefore, there have been no local elections in Malaysia since 1965. Till today, local councilors are appointed by the party in power. 
In the UK, all local government elections are partisan. Political parties nominate candidates, selected candidates submit nominations, party leaders participate in the campaigns, parties are accountable for a violation of the code of conduct and submission of election expenditure return, etc. On May 22, 2014, elections in 162 local councils were held in the UK, where the Labor Party received 31 percent of the popular votes, while the Conservative Party received 29 percent of the popular votes.
Most local elections in the USA are non-partisan. Until 1986, local elections in California were typically non-partisan with provisions for political parties to endorse, support or oppose the candidates. In a survey conducted in 1986, voters said that the parties' participation in the elections in this manner defeated several goals of non-partisan electoral system. Hence, the legal framework of California was amended with the provision that all local elections shall be “absolutely” non-partisan and no party or central party committee shall endorse, support or oppose a candidate for non-partisan office. 
In Bangladesh, till today, all local body elections have typically been non-partisan. The main characteristics of such elections are: (i) candidates cannot submit nomination along with an authorisation from his/her party (ii) Office bearers such as ministers, state ministers, speakers, etc. are not allowed to conduct the campaign (iii) candidates cannot use the party symbol or the portrait of party leaders while campaigning. However, parties are seen endorsing and supporting candidates as well as opposing other candidates. Moreover, party chiefs are also seen announcing the name of party-backed candidates openly, as they are introduced to the public by senior party leaders. Senior party leaders often work as campaign coordinators for party-backed candidates. Furthermore, during the election campaign, party slogans and even the name of the party are often used.
The debate on partisan vs. nonpartisan elections is not new. Supporters of partisan elections argue that the absence of party labels confuse voters; in the absence of a party ballot, voters will turn to whatever cue is available, which often turns out to be the ethnicity of a candidate's name. They also argue that non-partisanship tends to produce elected officials who are more representative of the upper socio-economic strata of society than the general populace, thereby aggravating the class bias in voting turnouts, because in a true non-partisan system, local party workers are not allowed to motivate voters from lower class households to visit the polls on Election Day.
Proponents of non-partisan elections suggest that all the issues in local elections are local issues and thus, participation of political parties here is irrelevant. Ideologies connected with political parties cannot be allowed to wrap voters' judgment. They also argue that partisan local polls create the scope of “unhealthy influence of political parties”. They believe that party labels lead to unnecessary party alignments and conflicts, and solutions to local problems should not be subjected to party-line political squabbles. 
Globally, partisan and non-partisan elections do not necessarily create barriers in conducting credible elections. In the UK, there is no question about the credibility of partisan local elections. In Norway, the local elections are conducted by the local government. However, studies show that conducting credible elections in a partisan manner is always a challenge in developing democracies around the world. 
Firstly, election results are frequently manipulated by the party in power. Local elections are always more politically charged. When candidates lose in their own village, there is more of a direct face-to-face rejection by their neighbours, especially if their party is in power. Many studies in developing democracies show that partisan local elections always create a scope for electoral manipulation for the party in power. 
Secondly, candidates from opposition parties are often not allowed to compete in local elections in developing countries, especially when there is a chance for the party in power to lose the elections. In 1999, opposition parties were not allowed in nearly three-quarters of the seats after the local elections in Azerbaijan, on the grounds that they were not qualified to compete in the elections. 
Thirdly, it always becomes difficult for the election commission to ensure a level playing field for all candidates in partisan local elections. Candidates and leaders from the party in power always try to interpose a “code of conduct”, which destroys the level playing field, thereby changing the election outcome.  

If we want to ensure democracy in Bangladesh, it is of utmost importance that the government and the EC consider these issues while determining the fate of local government polls. 

What is the rationale of partisan local government elections?

The cabinet has recently decided in principle to allow the use of party symbols in local elections. This, we are afraid, is a dangerous decision, which could unravel what is left of our democratic system after the much controversial election of January 5, 2014.
Three arguments are usually offered in favour of party-based local government elections. First, it would allow political parties to impose their discipline on representatives elected with party nominations. Second, it would make the local government elections 'political' as non-partisan elections are 'non-political'. Third, the political parties do not abide by the existing system of non-partisan elections, hence we should change the laws. We feel that these arguments are weak and erroneous.
Let us look at the argument of party discipline. Proponents argue that with partisan elections political parties could take disciplinary actions against representatives - elected with party nominations - for their illegal, immoral and unethical activities. This argument makes no sense, as our major political parties do not have the record of taking actions against unsavoury behaviour of elected representatives. Only in exceptional cases, where representatives made comments on sensitive issues like religion, have our political parties taken punitive actions in the past.        
Election, whether partisan or non-partisan, is a political process. Thus, those who argue that non-partisan elections are non-political and through non-partisan elections, de-politicisation takes place, seem to lack clarity in their thinking.
The argument that political parties do not play by the rule, so rules must be changed is also unacceptable. Unfortunately, our political parties and many politicians, for that matter, do not abide by many laws and rules. Does it mean that we should scrap all those laws? 
Since the arguments for party-based local elections are not convincing, the government should not go ahead with it, notwithstanding the recent decision of the cabinet. In fact, in our present political culture of flouting the basic democratic norms, and the poor state of our political parties, partisan local elections may produce very dangerous outcomes, further unravelling our democratic system.
One of the basic democratic norms is to show tolerance and respect for political opponents and dissenting voices. But in Bangladesh, our political parties not only can't tolerate political opponents, they are also engaged in violent confrontational politics and even efforts to annihilate each other. They do not respect even people's right to freely vote. Such an environment is not conducive to free and fair elections, which is a prerequisite for a democratic government, created with the consent of the people. Given this, partisan elections will only promote 'party-archy,' reflected by blind allegiance to parties, rather than strengthening our democratic system.
For holding party-based local elections, we must also have democratic, transparent and accountable political parties. Parties should not be criminalised, autocratic or committed to the wellbeing of the privileged. Unfortunately, we have not been able to nurture such political parties in Bangladesh. As our wise poet Tagore aptly put it, Bengalis know only to fight in the name of parties, but they cannot build parties.
Thus, if we are to realise the benefits of partisan local elections, if indeed there is to be any benefit at all, our ruling party should immediately initiate a broad-based dialogue to reach consensus on changing the prevailing political culture to ensure that all political parties practice democratic norms and values. The consensus must also be on reforming political parties to make them democratic and free of criminalisation. In addition, they must develop democratic procedures for nominating candidates.
The goal of the proposed dialogue and consensus building will be to hold free, fair and peaceful – i.e. genuine - elections. In addition to the disabling political culture, another formidable barrier is the partisan tilt of key institutions that lead to rigged elections. Thus, our political parties must reach a consensus to make these institutions behave neutrally before going ahead with party-based election of local bodies.
Without desirable changes in the political culture and the proposed reforms, partisan local government elections are likely to be tainted by widespread use of money and muscle power for securing nominations and bringing down the quality of candidates. Party cadres and governmental powers may also be used to make threats, file cases and otherwise harass the potential candidates from opposition parties. The opposition candidates may even be prevented from participating in elections.
Interestingly, a recent article in a Bangla daily (October 12, 2015) pointed out that during the last Panchayat elections in West Bengal, 25 percent of the potential candidates were prevented from filing their nomination papers by armed political cadres. It must be noted that the Indian Election Commissions are non-partisan and the partisan biases of West Bengal bureaucracy and law-enforcement agencies are not as serious as ours. Thus, without the proposed changes, there is likely to be ruling party 'capture' of our local bodies. 
Ruling party capture of the local bodies would surely further strangle our democratic system. The ruling party already has the executive branch and the parliament under its iron grip. Because of partisan appointment of administrators, the Zila Parishad is now under the control of the ruling party. The ruling party MPs have also taken control of the Upazila Parishads. Now, if the remaining local government bodies can be captured through partisan elections, the ruling party's control over all political institutions would be absolute, which would be an ominous development, threatening the very foundation of our democratic polity.

Ruling party capture of the local government bodies and the practice of party-archy may also lead to deprivation of people, who do not belong to the ruling party, of the important services those bodies offer. In addition, because of the dominant influence of party 'symbols,' the independent candidates, who are in general better candidates, would be eased out of the race. Since only limited number of women would be nominated by the ruling party, opportunities for women to get elected in local government bodies will also shrink. Thus, partisan local government elections will not only lower the quality of elected local representatives, it will also impede the political empowerment of women and the growth of women leadership.

Election game: Cities, citizens and coins

THE government is going to hold city corporations elections in less than a month. It is commonly believed that this is going to be a powerful stabiliser of the prolonged political heat, giving citizens a breathing space in the midst of the boiling atmosphere. Therefore, wise men of all fronts thought alike; they decided to join the race. 
Were the elections inevitable to escape from the ongoing deadlock? It can be conceived as a thoughtful strategy of a pure two-person game. True, these elections were long due in Dhaka as per the City Corporation Act 2009 Article 34, which has the provision of holding elections within 180 days of ending of the term of the earlier corporation. As Dhaka city was bifurcated through the City Corporation (amendment) Act 2011, the overdue elections have successfully been applied as the second-best strategy in the game to cool the environment for a while. 
Who wins in this decision? An estimated fifteen million residents of Dhaka are paying tax but are being deprived of services by their chosen representatives for three years. Elections appeared as a means of fulfilling the constitutional as well as legal entitlement of the citizens. Thus, the citizens should celebrate.
Who paid the price for having non-elected persons run Dhaka City Corporation for more than three years? Indeed, the citizens! The government-appointed 'executives' are neither supposed to respond to people's demand nor be made accountable to citizens for their activities which go against the civic interest. Certainly, the executives did nothing significant for the two very important city corporations for the last three years, other than weakening the resource base and eroding citizens' confidence in the democratic local government institutions. It also gives rise to a ray of hope that had faded because the government committed in FY2013-14 to increase aggregate city corporation budget by 233 per cent in FY2014-15. In reality, it witnessed a 33 per cent decline in the revised budget. Resource flow from the national government was slashed the most, because of unelected administrators.
Statistics prove this statement. The government budget for Dhaka South in FY2011-12 was Tk.325.7crore while it was Tk.51.5 crore for the North. Surprisingly, the figure was altered in the following fiscal year with Tk.155.5  crore and Tk.384.8 crore for South and North, respectively, even though the number of administrative wards is higher in the South. The revised budget of FY2013-14 was up for South but significantly down for North (Tk.200.5 crore and Tk.224 crore, respectively). However, the allocation has gone down significantly for both: Tk.60 crore and Tk.74 crore for the South and North in the current fiscal year. Together, the budget is going to be Tk.156 crore in FY2016-17 according to Medium-Term Budget Framework (MTBF) projection (FY2014-15 to 2016-17), which is equal to the government spending for the South only in FY2012-13. Conversely, total government budget for the other city corporations for the entire period is generally growing. It means Dhaka city corporations are regressing in terms of inter-governmental transfer while the others are progressing.     
It is often argued that there is a strong political bias in public financing to local government bodies. Is it true for city corporations where the mayors are from the opposition? Not at all! The revised budget for Chittagong City Corporation was Tk.72.8 crore in FY2013-14, which was nearly double than the actual spending of FY2012-13. The budget continued to increase for MTBF years. The revised budget for Rajshahi grew by more than 50 per cent in FY2013-14, while the MTBF projection did not fall below this budget. For Khulna, the budget witnessed a decline. However, the most recent budget documents of Khulna City Corporation reveal that it has been enjoying a huge revenue surplus that discourages funding from national level, again not purely because of a mayor from the opposition. The actual budget of Sylhet as well as MTBF projection shows sharp rise since FY2012-13. The budget also shows generally growing trend for Barisal as well. Ironically enough, most of these city corporations have higher budget for the MTBF period than either of the Dhaka city corporations that are located at the economic centre of gravity of the country. Thus, one can easily apply 'conspiracy theory' to prove that the fiscal deprivation of the citizens in Dhaka is due to absence of elected representatives.
Will the election bring government spending in the cities through Local Government Division? By no means! The lion's share of the public money being spent in the cities is through non-transferred departments like Water Supply & Sewerage Authority (WASA), Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE), and Local Government Engineering Department (LGED). Their functions and finances have neither been transferred to the city corporations, nor are they accountable to the citizens. Corporations are used to frequent coordination failures as claimed by elected representatives, which cause sufferings for citizens. Elected representatives often fail to mitigate the outcomes going against public interest, and tend to think unwise to raise conflict with these departments, especially when they are from the opposition. Thus, fulfilling legitimate demands and aspirations of the citizens remain a far cry due to apparently 'peaceful coexistence' of two governments. 
Citizens remain as coins in the last resort. They are tossed after intervals. Nevertheless, they hold the 'magic,' which is popularly known as 'majority.' Influential quarters are always scared of this toss.

The writer is Senior Research Fellow at Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS). E-mail: mahfuzkabir@yahoo.com.  

Local Government – another Casualty of Deadlock

THE year 2014 and the 10th Parliamentary election are turning points in the political history of Bangladesh. The Westminster type parliamentary model practiced so far under a multiparty system since 1991, with many limitations and distortions, took a new twist as single party rule after the 10th Parliamentary election. The elections held in 2014 at national (10th Parliament and by-elections) and local level (Upazila Parishad elections) did not have credibility, inclusiveness and legitimacy. The 'Grand Alliance' under the leadership of Bangladesh Awami League (AL) and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took responsibility of presiding over the government, party and Parliament after the 10th Parliament election. The Grand Alliance runs the parliament with a 'brute majority,' and there is no credible opposition in the parliament. 
 The general election held in January 5, 2014, was boycotted by 28 out of 42 registered political parties. The  political alliance led by the Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP), which was in power three  times and also alternatively played the role of opposition in the parliament twice since 1991, did not participate in the  10th Parliamentary election in protest against the 15th Amendment of the constitution that abolished the caretaker government (CTG) system. In spite of all this, the year 2014 passed apparently peacefully but with suspicious silence and hidden tension. There was less political agitation, but criticism and discomfort at home and abroad. The withdrawal of the World Bank from the Padma Bridge project, Corruption Perception Index (CPI) of Transparency International (TI) and various scams and scandals in the financial and banking sectors made headlines during the year. The European and North American diplomats were criticised for their stand on credible and inclusive election. The government created its own comfort zone by publicising the consistent growth rate of around 6% per annum, issues of social development, achievement of MDG goals, etc, as compensatory issues in facing the criticisms of its democratic credentials. To some extent, 'democracy' and 'development' were portrayed as trade-offs or alternatives to one another rather than being complementary.
The year 2015 started with political violence that reached unprecedented levels. There has been state violence through police brutality, together with participation of ruling party cadres on the one hand, and opposition political violence through oborodh (siege) and hartals (strike) along with bomb throwing, burning, killing and injuring people on the other hand, every day since January 5, 2015. The possibility of a 'political settlement' between the two opposing camps still seems remote and uncertain. The ruling regime is trying to stay in power at any cost and the opposing camp is determined to unseat them. So, policy making and improvement in governance are not on the political agenda of any camp at the moment.
The 9th Parliament (2009-2013) passed most of the Local Government (LG)-related acts, and a few rules were also issued by the government from time to time. So far, five sets of 'rules' for each of the institutions -- Upazila Parishad (UZP) and Union Parishad (UP) -- have been issued. The training for newly elected UZP representatives and officials was completed. Similarly, UP representatives and secretaries also received training and UZPs and UPs received increased amounts of funds under ADP and Local Government Support Project (LGSP) respectively. The offices of Director Local Government (DLG) and Deputy Director Local Government (DDLG) were streamlined and provided with a new ToR and logistics. Many other policy changes were promised by the government, such as appointment of one additional staff (accountant / assistant secretary) for UPs; transfer of funds of the government functionaries (17 department have already transferred their manpower) to the UZP; transfer of union level government employees to UPs as per provision of UP act 2009; formation  of a 'Policy Advisory Group' at ministry level  for initiating policy review, and strengthening of Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) wing of the ministry for more effective monitoring of the Local Government Institutions (LGI) affairs. All the pending activities have been overshadowed by a 'political heat wave' of deadly confrontations for the time being. Unless a 'political settlement' is reached between the government and the opposition, any meaningful development in LG sector is a remote possibility.
There are many other unresolved issues in the sphere of local government and local governance. Some of the important steps and issues are:
* Holding of overdue elections in two City Corporations of Dhaka in a free, fair acceptable and inclusive manner;

* Election of reserved seats of women representatives in the UZPs;

*  Issues of the reorganisation of Zila Parishads (ZP) and holding elections as soon as possible;

* Creating ownership of 'district budget' with the ZPs;

* Restraining the undue interference of law makers in the executive functions, especially in the domain of LGs (UP, UZP and ZP);

* Formulation of proper policy for making the transferred subjects functional at UZP level and properly implementing the provision of  transfer system at the UP level;

* Initiation of integrated planning system at district, upazila and unions in line with five year plan strategies

The autonomy of LGI representatives after 10th Parliamentary election during the government's current term did not improve, rather LGI governance deteriorated further at upazila level. The role of officials, especially UNO, police, upazila engineer, etc', has become more aggressively or passively partisan. The political activists of the ruling alliance are playing a defacto role in different decision making process, such as enlistment of safety net receivers to the management of primary schools, high schools, madrassas and colleges with blessings from local MPs as well as management of institutions like UPs and UZPs. The Local Government Division (LGD) also supports the actions of the ruling party from behind the scene. In the last two years (2013-2014), there were many foreign trips in the name of 'study tour' under the sponsorship of LGD. Almost all officials of the LGD visited different countries of Europe along with a few 'administrators' of ZP, UZP, and chairmen and vice-chairmen belonging to the ruling party. Political affiliation of LGI leaders was the main criterion for selection of candidates for those trips. The resources for the trips were siphoned from the ADP allocation shown in the national budget in favour of LGIs (UZP and ZP) arbitrarily by the LGD. There were many suspensions, arrests and warnings to the representatives elected from the opposition. The work environment everywhere (UP, UZP, pourshava and city corporations) has become difficult to work in. Interference by the bureaucracy and party activists increased to an intolerable proportion. Even the UP chairmen and members and UZP chairmen and vice-chairmen belonging to ruling alliance are complaining against their own MPs and activists.
The innovations already made through many of the donor-assisted LG projects through different NGO partners in the process of wider replication are under threat, and the possibility of implementing new innovation is very unlikely if the current volatile situation continues. Nothing other than a  'political settlement 'of the current stalemate can put the  policy makers and LG functionaries back on their feet, or  to a point from where fresh thinking can be linked with the existing development. The donor community in general seems hesitant to think of further expansion of areas and activities at this juncture. Instead it may concentrate more on the consolidation and deepening of the interventions already made. Investment already made needs to be protected rather than wasting resources amidst the prevailing political uncertainty. This might have a negative impact on the general growth situation as well as continuity of growth and development at the local levels. After the MDG, the UN is formulating SDG for the period 2016-2030. We cannot afford to miss that train due to our internal political unrest and stalemate.

The writer is a leading Local Governance Expert, Director (Governance) MJF, and Honourary Fellow BIGD, Brac University. E-mail:tofail101@gmail.com