Young Political Leaders Learn to Collaborate across Party Lines

Monday, March 23, 2020
Jhalokathi District advocacy team members gather to declare a local administrative unit "child marriage free."
USAID Strengthening Political Landscape

Glimmers of hope and tolerance increasingly shine through Bangladesh’s historically polarized political landscape as young party leaders reach across the aisle for better and more constructive collaboration.  Playing a supporting role, the USAID-funded Strengthening Political Landscape (SPL) activity has convened Bangladeshis for cross-party training sessions and events under the Young Leaders Fellowship Program (YLFP).  The 352 YLFP graduates, who studied leadership, internal party democracy, party constitutions, advocacy, public speaking, and communications, are shunning confrontation and working across party lines to address problems affecting Bangladeshis.  For example, YLFP graduates in Sylhet representing Awami League (AL) and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), two rival political parties, have been working together to influence their senior party leaders to contribute towards building a tolerant political landscape, as well as to cooperate on resolving community issues.

Fellows Zahid Sarwar and Murshed Mukul, from two rival political parties, encouraged collaboration between BNP leader and the Mayor of Sylhet, Mr. Ariful Haque Chowdhury, and  AL leader, and Upazila Chairman of South Surma, Mr. Abu Zahid, to reduce environmental and public health hazards caused by a waste disposal zone on the border of the Sylhet City Corporation.  Separately, before the Sylhet City Corporation Election, these trained young leaders brought together mayoral candidates of rival political parties AL and BNP at a town hall and engaged them in a dialogue with citizens of Sylhet City to discuss the most significant issues facing the people of Sylhet City.  Both mayoral candidates pledged to conduct a peaceful election campaign, a fair election process, and abide by the results in a peaceful manner. 

“We used to be expected to fight during the rallies of the two major parties," said YLFP fellow Zahid Sarwar. “Today, at least there are a few people—trained by SPL—taking a positive role in stopping the negative attitudes by engaging in constructive dialogue.” 

From 2017 to 2019, these fellows along with other SPL political network members have engaged nearly 290,000 political leaders of Awami League, BNP, and Jatiya Party, and citizens across Bangladesh at 667 multiparty forums where leaders and their constituents pledged to work together for a peaceful political environment in Bangladesh.

The good news is that political parties are using their own resources to institutionalize the USAID-funded training on strengthening internal democracy and leadership, political parties in Bangladesh within their party structure.  In late 2019, district and city committees independently arranged training using their own party resources. For example, BNP’s Khulna City Committee started to train its grassroots leaders from 34 ward committees. These trainers, in turn, plan to train 1,700 grassroots leaders through their continuous learning initiatives. BNP committees in Chandpur and Noakhali districts have also conducted training with party funds,  and in Naogaon, both the AL and BNP conducted training with their own party resources.

In November 2019, trainees scored another success, this time to safeguard the future of young girls.  With the help of an SPL-supported advocacy team, which consisted of training graduates from political parties AL, BNP,  and Jatiya Party, officials of Nabagram Union (a small administrative area) of Jhalokati District declared the Union and its schools as “child marriage-free.”  Historically, residents and parents here promoted child marriage due to cultural traditions and a lack of awareness among local citizens of the negative effects of this practice.  Following an SPL-supported initiative to raise awareness among local citizens and develp an action plan leading to the declaration, the Union Parishad Chairman and other government representatives publicly vowed to stand against child marriage.

Last updated: May 18, 2020

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