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Monday, March 10, 2008
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MPs' influence in local govt to go

Council nods to proposed amendment today

The council of advisers to the caretaker government is set to finalise proposals for revoking power of members of parliament over upazila parishads and to empower the Election Commission (EC) to announce schedules for holding polls to the parishads.

"Finalising the proposed amendment to the Upazila Parishad Act is on the agenda for tomorrow's [Monday] cabinet meeting. If the council of advisers gives final approval, then the president will promulgate an ordinance amending the Upazila Parishad Act," Local Government and Rural Development (LGRD) and Cooperatives Adviser Anwarul Iqbal told The Daily Star yesterday.

Once the Upazila Parishad Act is amended, the EC will be empowered to announce schedules for upazila elections.

"Once the law is amended, we will formally ask the Election Commission to initiate steps for holding polls to upazila parishads… even though the responsibilities for holding the upazila elections will lie on the commission after amendment to the law," the LGRD adviser said.

Meanwhile, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) ATM Shamsul Huda yesterday said the EC would consider holding polls to upazila parishads when the government so suggests.

"Some are saying that it can be held along with the national elections and some are in favour of holding the upazila elections in segments. The decision has not been made yet," the CEC told reporter at the EC Secretariat.

The EC in its electoral roadmap announced on July 15 last year said the long overdue elections to upazila parishads will be held between November and December this year.

Today the council of advisers is likely to discuss ways to ensure environment conducive to holding polls to four city corporations and seven municipalities at the end of April or early May, sources said.

The EC had earlier asked the caretaker government to create the environment for holding polls to city corporations and municipalities either by lifting or relaxing the state of emergency in the areas.

AMENDMENT TO UPAZILA PARISHAD ACT
The council of advisers on January 27 this year approved a proposition for amending the current Upazila Parishad Act, 1998 repealing a provision that allows local representatives to the parliament to interfere in the activities of upazila parishads.

Section 25 of the current law empowers lawmakers to become advisers to upazila parishads binding it to accept their suggestions.

The cabinet at that meeting also approved a proposal for empowering the EC again with the authority to announce election schedules for upazila parishads, moving the authority back to the commission from the government.

In the wake of a long-standing demand for repealing the authorities of lawmakers over local government institutions, the caretaker government made the decision in a bid to strengthen the local government system, making it free of interference from the central government.

The first election to upazila parishads was held in 1985 after its introduction in the local government system during the regime of HM Ershad. The very existence of upazila parishads was threatened after the second election in 1990, when Ershad stepped down in the face of a mass movement.

The BNP assumed power in 1991 and dissolved the upazila system. The Supreme Court in a judgment in 1992 directed the government to hold elections to upazila parishads within six months. But the BNP government did not hold the polls during its tenure.

Assuming power in 1996, Awami League passed the Upazila Parishad Act, 1998. However, elections were not held.

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