Election manifestos: in the eyes of youth

Nahid Riyasad and Nasir Uz Zaman | Updated at 02:02pm on December 23, 2018



As the nation breathlessly awaiting the upcoming national election, the first time voters are at the centre of attention. All parties in their manifestos have pledged to the youths. A cursory glance would reveal, while hundreds of words are spent, no strong voices and pledges are there to decriminalise student politics and fully realise the  potential of our youth, writes Nahid Riyasad and Nasir Uz Z

As the nation breathlessly awaiting the upcoming national election, the fast time voters are at the centre of attention of all political parties. The total number of voters between the ages of 18 to 35 is 4.2 crores this year. All parties in their manifestos have pledged to the youths. A cursory glance would reveal, while hundreds of words are spent, no strong voices and pledges are there to decriminalise student politics. The ruling party in power treats the youth as their muscle power, not as a productive force of the nation. They shy away from making a clear commitment to hold student body election. The opposition alliance, National Unity Front of which Awami League’s arch political rival, Bangladesh Nationalist Party is part of, promises more than a youth can expects from a mainstream political alliance. They propose not only their intended plans for youth, but also some concrete actions. However, they too have shied away from making pledges to ensuring constructive student politics. The Democratic Left Alliance in this regard is different as they acknowledge the historic and glorious role of student movement in Bangladesh, but there focus is more on tackling commercialisation of education than reclaiming the legacy of student politics from the hands of political parties that uses youth as muscle power. Political parties in the Chittagong Hill Tracts have attempted to address the specific demands of the ethnic minority youth, but no specific contextualised promises to develop the youths according to their need and their ethnic identity is there in the manifesto.  Except for a few fleeting mentions, the election manifestos fall short on qualitative development of the youth. New Age Youth, in this article, reviews what the political parties have promised to youth in their election manifesto 2018.

Bangladesh Awami League

-  Creating employment for 1.50 crorers youth by 2023

-  Implementing Youth Policy 2017

The political party in power, Bangladesh Awami League, has been most vocal in their ways of alluring the first time voters. However, they have spent more words in advertising what they claimed to have done for the youth than what they pledges to do. In their election manifesto, the ruling party promises to fully implement the Youth Policy-2017. Forming a separate youth department under the ministry of youth and sports is also in their manifesto. Increasing this ministry’s budget and forming a youth research centre is also promised in the literature.  It assures to create a further 1.50 crorer employment possibilities by 2023.

To ensure that youth spends their social time in more constructive and creative ways, AL promises to establish a youth recreation centre in every upazila. Furthermore, there will be youth sports complex in every district. Also, to fend off youth’s inclination towards religious fundamentalism, AL advocate the secular ideology of the liberation war. The ruling party also promises to consult with youth in case of mid and long term development projects.

For the education sector, Al’s mission is to ensure, through the curriculum, that the young generations get to know ‘undistorted true history’. They also plan to undertake huge projects to increase the ability of language and mathematics of the teachers and students. The manifesto promises to employ teachers and education executives exclusively on their merit, caliber and experience. Also, taking effective measures to stop question paper leak is in their manifesto. Lastly, they have promised to increase budget of the tertiary level educational institutes to encourage research and hope to establish at least one private or public university in every district.   

AL, when came into power with a landslide victory in 2008, emphasised on the youth and this time is no different. However, their commitments translate into the manifesto in the form of quantitative development, conforming to the government’s development narrative. Apparent lack of qualitative, philosophical and intellectual development of the youth through a sustainable process has been missing from the scenario. These are indication of AL’s ideological inclination towards tangible and expensive infrastructural and quantitative development rather than intellectually developing the youth for a more robust, capable, and tolerant future generation.

National Unity Front

-  No age limit for public services except for police and military

-  A commission to implement unemployment allowance for youth over age 30

-  Increasing the education budged up to six per cent of the national GDP

- Addressing political party control of public university student dormitories

The main opposition alliance National Oikko Front has made constructive promises to the youth. Instead of generic commitments to resolve unemployment crisis, they have promised some concrete actions that include denouncing age barrier for all civil service jobs except for military and police, restoring quota for especial need person and ethnic communities, a commission to asses and implement allowance for unemployed youth over the age of 30. They also promised to fill up all empty seats in civil service within the next five years.

Considering that some sectors employ a large number of foreign citizens, Oikko Front promised a stricter regulation in this regard so national citizens are prioritised in any recruitment and train youth according to the needs of the job market. To encourage freelancing among the youth, they will bring Pay Pal service to make the payment process easier. Moreover, they will train young people in specific languages to open untapped foreign job market in Africa and other similar places to the youth.

For the education sector, Unity Front will form a commission to change the inside out of the entire education system and make it more market oriented. They will categorise private colleges and universities to chalk out a plan for uniform tuition fees. To address the crisis of brain drain, Oikko Front will form a talent search initiative and bring back Bangladeshi promising brains working abroad. At the university level, the student wings of ruling political parties are controlling the seat distribution in student dormitories. They promise to resolve this crisis by holding regular student body election and ensuring democratic environment on campus. In case of teacher recruitment in tertiary level institutions, research work will be the ultimate criterion.

In the past few years, we have seen how question paper leak has become pervasive and rampant.  To this end, the Unity Front promises to form an ‘anti question leak cell’ and effective laws to combat this phenomenon. Last but not the least their most important promise is that they announces to increase the education budget up to 6 per cent of the entire national GDP. The fact that Unity Front has consulted with different youth bodies and attempted to incorporate their demands in their manifesto is promissory.

Left Democratic Alliance

-   Ending World Bank policies of commercialisation of education 

-   An uniform education system  

-  An improved teacher student ration in classroom

- Increased budget allocation for education sector

-  Effective enforcement of 1973 University Ordinance in public universities and effective regulatory board for private universities

The Alliance consists of eight political parties — Community Party of Bangladesh, Bangladesh Socialist Dal, Bangladesh Socialist Dal (Marxist), Ganosanhati Anodlon, Democratic Revolutionary Party, Revolutionary Workers Party, United Communist League, and Bangladesh Socialist Movement. They have announced their election manifesto with a collective political vision for Bangladesh. Ideologically, the Left Alliance considered the youth as a promising productive force who are the decedents of young freedom fighters of 1971, language movement 1952 and student movements against military rule in independent Bangladesh.  Their manifesto acknowledges the pervasive frustration among today’s youth, state repression against students during recent quota reform and road safety movement.  

Their major promise, regarding young generation is to combat the commercialisation of education sector. In tertiary education, the way World Bank policies have imposed a business model, their manifesto have strongly opposed it and promised to cancel those ‘strategy papers’.  To establish a uniform and non-discriminatory education system they stated, wish to reform the education system in way that will do away with the socio-economic divide between the English, Bengali and Madrasha education and establish a uniform medium accessible to all. The alliance also promises to keep good portion of the national GDP for the education sector. Considering the manner primary education is hampered due to inadequate teachers, they have shown interest in improving student teacher ratio in classrooms and want to keep it 1:25 in primary and secondary level. For university students, they promised regular student body election. In response to the extreme partisanisation of university administration, as well as teachers body, the alliance have for long demanded effective enforcement of 1973 Public University Ordinance and now pledges that it would restore the autonomy granted through the Ordinance, if elected.

Ganosanhati Andolan

- Allocating six per cent of the national GDP to the education  sector

-  Compulsory active library in every educational institute

-  Expanding age limit to 35 for public service

-   Creating one million jobs in clean energy sector

-  Budget for research on clean energy and encouraging new educational infrastructure to use green energy

-  A logical reforms in quota system and keeping quota for deserving communities

-   Making student bodies functional at public universities

Ganosanhati Andolon is part of Left Democratic Alliance, but the party was denied political party registration by the Election Commission. Therefore, they have three aspirants participating in the upcoming election. In separate election, the party has presented their particular pledges that add to what has already been said in the Alliance manifesto. Firstly, they promised six per cent of the entire GDP for the education sector. To combat the culture of grade and GPA oriented education, they have proposed to develop a new student evaluation system in which students’ participation and intellectual growth will be evaluated instead of marks in a standardised exam. Similarly, to ensure that teachers are also trained and committed to teaching, a teachers’ evaluation system will also be introduced. They promise to make library compulsory for every educational institutes. They also underscored the importance of education in mother tongue because it acknowledges linguistic diversity and encourages creating greater educational opportunity for ethnic minority students.

What separates their manifesto from others is that it has talked about not only a democratic society for youth, but also an environmentally sustainable world for them. If elected, they promised to advocate for clean energy in every new educational institute. To address the drug abuse, they point out that victimising the user is not the solution, rather, they hope to uproot the entire trade. Reviving the students’ union by electing students body is also in their manifesto. They also addressed the rampant house rent and promise to tame the wild horse.

As Ganosamhati Andolan promises to create a million jobs in the clean energy sector, this would encourage more youths to engage in this field to reverse our fossil based energy policies. Also, installing clean energy technology in every educational institute would help the future generation to understand the importance of environmental sustainability.

Islami Andolon Bangladesh

-  Reforming education system based on religion (Islam) and ethics.

-   Empowering three million families each year through Zakat

-   Initiating project ‘food for education’

-    Enacting new policies to empower women

Islami Andolon Bangladesh does not promise direct or indirect employment opportunities to address the unemployment issues. However, in their election manifesto, they claimed that 1.5 crorers of people from thirty lakhs families will be pulled out of poverty with effective use of Zakat money, a pillar of Islam which requires the affluent to donate a specific amount of money. They want to engage religious institutions in mass education project and will train millions of imam and muajjin to carry out the job. In this regard, they plan on involving mass media for mass education.

Language of their manifesto itself is exclusionary, and rejects any possibility of building a pluralist society. Involving religious institutions is education and other state matters will further strengthen and institutionalise religious intervention in social, administrative and state affairs.

The youth in Chittagong Hill Tracts faces problems that any youth of Bangladesh faces, but the political instability, the constant interference of security forces in the civil administration, communal violence make them further vulnerable. In other words, the realities of ethnic minorities are lot similar to majority youth, but they carry a double burden. In this context, political parties in CHT with Jumma leadership — Parbotto Chottogram Janasanghati Samity and United People’s Democratic Front — have published their election manifesto with specific plans to resolve the ongoing political crisis, but also responded to the youth issues in the region. These parties do not have direct party candidates but they extended support to independent candidates.

Parbotto Chottogram Janasanghati Samity

 Creating employment opportunities

-   Establishing vocational institute at upazila level

Janasanghati Samity played a historic role in realising the treaty with the government of Bangladesh and still working for the full implementation of the CHT Accord as they consider the treaty as a road-map to resolving the manifold crisis in CHT. While Janasanghati Samity does not have their party candidate electioneering for the upcoming national election, they have supported an independent candidate — Ushaton Talukder from Rangamati district.  For the youth, the JSS supported independent candidate focused on creating job opportunity through industrialisation. To strengthen the education system, he pledged more graduate and post graduate courses in the Rangamati Government College and to spread technical education, vocational institutes will be established at upazila level. In CHT, students from remote areas with the no or minimal educational facilities has to face housing problems. In this context, this independent candidate promises to build student dormitories.

United People’s Democratic Front

- Scrapping ethnically chauvinistic narrative about Jumma people from text books

- Reinstating five per cent quota for ethnic communities

United People’s Democratic Front is committed to establish the democratic rights of Jumma people and constitutional recognition of ethnic minority communities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The manifesto is largely focused on addressing the unstable political situation in CHT. However, the pledge that specifically addresses the concerns of the Jumma youth are crucial to create a pluralist and tolerant society not only in CHT, but also in larger Bangladesh. The ethnic minority students have often mentioned how the textbook representation of minority communities reflects the ideological bias of majoritarian Bengali thereby affects their learning process. This is a significant promise that all parties should consider. The nation can definitely benefit from an education curriculum that encourages plurality and tolerance. They have also promised that if in power, they will work to reinstate ethnic minority quota for public services.  

The ruling party Awami League’s election manifesto talks about figurative and tangible development projects and hides their philosophy of using youth as muscle power whereas the major opposition alliance National Oikko Front shows the decency to sit with BGSRPC and hear youth’s demand. Left leaning parties somewhat disappointed the youth with their generic and cliché pledges. In this scenario, the youths have only one option left. Paulo Freire, in his Pedagogy of Commitment points out the empty rhetoric of election manifesto and prescribes people’s duty, ‘Generally, during political campaigning, a sort of discourse is upheld that has nothing to do with the practice that follows. We have to make these things public. Denouncing candidates who are not living up to their promises is a form of struggle, a way to break isolation. This is but one example of what can be done’.

Lutfunnahar Luma
Joint convener, General Students’ Rights Protection Council

In election manifestos of different political parties, we did not see effective plans for the qualitative development of students and youths. The General Students’ Rights Protection Council has presented ‘Tarunner Ishtehar Vabna 2018 (Manifesto of the Youth 2018)’ before the parties and announced their election manifesto so that the party manifestos could address pressing youth issues. But, they did not. The National Unity Front has included some of the points from our manifesto but it has failed to recognise the importance of keeping age limit for government jobs. The ruling party, Bangladesh Awami League, has totally overlooked our demands. Students have expected so much more from their manifesto. They are talking about road safety but there is not a single word about the attacks and cases against students. Most of the protesters of quota reform and road safety movement are students. They could have easily heed to our demand and gain our trust. The AL manifesto, moreover, does not have a single word on the illegal control over public university dormitories, they said nothing about Dhaka University Central Students Union election and violence-free campus. We expected that they would address these burning youth issues in their manifesto. We wanted concrete promises, but that has not been the case with most of the political party manifestos.

Alik Mree
General secretary, Bangladesh Garo Students’ Organisation

A major pressing issue for plain land ethnic minority communities is the land crisis. To resolve the crisis, at least a land commission is required and we expected a clear commitment from the political parties. Another crucial demand is to restore five per cent quota for ethnic minorities in civil service. Constitutional recognition is precondition to granting us equal status as citizen — that remains unresolved. The areas our communities live do not have schools with proper resources and teachers. We expected clear assurances from election manifestos — if they come to power, they will resolve these issues. Some have made commitments. The naked truth is — once in power, no party remembers their election pledges. We have seen many commitments for the ethnic minorities but they have never been implemented. But, manifestos with such commitments at least create a ground to raise voices and remind the power holders about their commitments.

Liton Nandi
General secretary, Bangladesh Students’ Union

Students’ politics has a long and glorious history. But corruption in present politics, initiated by dominant businesspersons in politics have destroyed the glory and led to criminalisation of students’ politics. To continue it, politically influential quarters have prevented student body for decades and there is no accountability. What is necessary is change in this and create a tolerant society that will accommodate and nourish respect for different views and opinion – that is we can create a positive Bangladesh. The Left Democratic Alliance has promised student body election but most other parties did not. Commitments to stop criminalisation of students’ politics are absent. During the election period when all parties were supposed to engage in debating election manifestos, we, the opposition party activists are faced with politically motivated cases or even physically assaulted when campaigning for our preferred candidates. The mainstream political parties, BNP and AL are focused on infrastructural development avoiding the question of qualitative development. In Communist Party of Bangladesh’s manifesto, they emphasised on the qualitative development in education system. When the total system of existing politics becomes corrupt, the parties’ manifestoes should be focused on changing the corrupt system.

Bipul Chakma
President, Pahari Chhatra Parishad

Unemployment problem is one of the major crises for today’s youth. The youth of CHT are faced with the same problem. In addition, they are affected by the unstable, violence prone political situation in CHT. Each and every party should recognise this issue and pledge to solve this crisis but effective pledges are not made by major political parties in CHT. The education sector here is on the verge of collapse. Most of the teachers in schools and colleges are recruited not on the basis of their merit, but on political consideration or through bribery. Power and everything here is controlled by military. People expected that parties’ manifestos would address but NO. Nothing. One point should be mentioned here that leading parties have committed to take steps in their previous election manifestos, but they did nothing after being elected. United People's Democratic Front as a local party has recognised the problems of ordinary people as well as youths. It is a fact that our leaders could not do much, but at least they can present the problems in the parliament and can fight to solve the problems.

Oliur Sun
Organiser, Bodhichitta

Bangladesh Awami League AL has emphasised on the development discourse in their manifesto rather pointing out clear future plans. The manifesto is presenting so much of their development achievements that it comes first and the security issue comes last. The development plans that are given in the manifesto are only about quantitative or infrastructural development rather qualitative improvements. For example, they are talking about establishing more schools, colleges, universities and madrasas but there are no plans for developing the quality of education including the existing institutions. World Bank’s involvement in education sector and clarification of government’s pedagogical position should be a fundamental point in the manifesto which is very much absent. These are one side of the manifesto and the other side is the contradiction between manifesto and its implication. Two consecutive terms — 10-year — is not a short time. It will be not a short list of unattended and avoided commitments of previous two manifestos. One major aspect of these manifestoes is that most of the promises of present time are borrowed from previous election’s promises and as a result — people are stuck in an infinite loophole of manifestoes.

Bishwa Chakma
Online activist

In election time, each and every party publishes their manifestos with their commitments for the development of the nation and protection of the rights of people. But from previous experiences as a person from CHT, we know that the manifestos are nothing but written promises. After coming to power, the elected representative never chose to keep their promises. The leading parties, AL and BNP had earlier promised to implement Chittagong Hill Tracts Treaty 1997 but never took effective steps. Moreover, military deployment is being increased on excuses of political instability despite the fact that it was clearly stated in the treaty that troops will be withdrawn from the hills. One cannot reject the importance of election manifestos but the reality and experiences have led us, the people of CHT, to lose their faith on the words made in election manifestos. And people want the implementation of the treaty with effective steps to ensure democratic and non-communal environment.

Nahid Riyasad and Nasir Uz Zaman are members of the New Age Youth team