SHUJAN-Citizens for Good Governance
SHUJAN-Citizens for Good Governance – made its debut in 2002 as an initiative of a group of concerned citizens of Bangladesh with the purpose of promoting democracy, decentralization, electoral reforms, clean politics and accountable governance. As a non-partisan pressure group, it provides an effective platform for people to discover their voices and be heard. SHUJAN has already achieved solid successes in its priority areas. Its initiatives were featured in the 26 December 2006 issue of Time Magazine.
A Decentralized Network of Committed Citizens
Since its inception SHUJAN has mobilized thousands of citizens from all walks of life – citizens who are disenchanted with the present state of Bangladesh’s politics and governance. In the process, it has become a large, decentralized network of committed individuals from the capital city down to the villages. SHUJAN is not an NGO supported by donors; rather, it is a volunteer-based movement in which citizens themselves invest both their time and money to carry forward its work.
A Relentless Voice for Reforms
SHUJAN has pioneered and championed a comprehensive package of reforms addressing the electoral process, the Election Commission and political parties. We have articulated these reform issues in popular newspaper articles, workshops, seminars and discussions across the country, and have staged many public events such as marches, human chains etc. With media support, SHUJAN has launched innovative activities throughout the country, such as “Election Olympiads,” “Debates for Democracy,” “Candidate Forums,” and “Open Budget Meetings.” As a result of these and similar initiatives, ideas for reforms and qualitative changes in Bangladesh’s politics have caught the people’s imagination and become popular demands. (SHUJAN is now planning to hold “People’s Dialogue” and “Concerts for Democracy” throughout the country. We are happy to note that many of the reform proposals proposed by SHUJAN are now being enacted into laws.)
A Champion for Local Democracy
Good governance requires taking government directly to the door steps of the people and creating opportunities for them to effectively participate in the decisions that affect their lives. Thus, SHUJAN is committed to giving power to the people, especially women through strong elected local bodies. It played a key role in shaping the recommendations of “The Committee to Revitalize and Strengthen Local Government” which in November 2008 submitted its four-volume recommendations including draft laws to the government. The ordinances for City Corporation, Paurashava, Upazila, Union Parishad and Local Government Commission have already been promulgated based on the submitted drafts. SHUJAN has also been involved in mobilizing elected leaders of Union Parishads with demands for pro-people, pro-women, decentralized governance. SHUJAN activists were most vocal for Upazila elections which were held on 22 January 2009.
Demystifying the Electoral Roll
Thanks to the work of SHUJAN and a few other organizations, preparing a reliable electoral roll, or lack of it, has become one of the most important issues in Bangladesh in recent years. As directed by the Bangladesh Supreme Court, the creation of an “Electoral Roll Database” is the most dependable and cost-effective way to update it on a continuous basis. SHUJAN has done the basic task of converting the existing electoral roll prepared in 2000 into an online database and thus created the template for an error-free electoral roll for the coming elections. The database incorporates a search protocol, and can allow continuous updates and the elimination of duplicate names. SHUJAN also relentlessly advocated and created public opinion for digitized electoral roll with photographs which the Election Commission is now implementing.
Creating Candidate Profiles
In addition to reforms, clean governance requires the nomination of honest and competent candidates by political parties and thereby offering meaningful choices to voters. It also requires the disclosure of candidates’ antecedents in order to allow voters to make informed decisions in the polling booths. One of the most significant contributions of SHUJAN is that it was instrumental in recent upholding of the historic High Court judgment on disclosures of antecedents of candidates by the Appellate Division – our volunteers documented that the appeal against the judgment was made fraudulently using fabricated information. SHUJAN has not only become the strongest voice for reforming the nomination process and disclosing the background of contesting candidates, it has also taken effective steps – including constructing a website (www.votebd.org) and creating a volunteer network to distribute information about candidates among the voting public – in order to keep politicians and their activities transparent. We are in essence creating a repository of candidate profiles. We are also posting in our website the articles on political corruption published in major newspapers since early 2007.
During the recently completed City Corporation and Paurashava polls, we have collected the copies of the affidavits and tax returns submitted by the candidates and posted those on the website. We have also prepared comparative statements of information of Mayoral candidates and distributed those among the voters during the “Candidate Forums” (Candidate-Voter Face-to-face meetings or mukhumukhi) held in all 13 electoral areas (4 City Corporation and 9 Paurashavas) in partnership with Prothom Alo, The Daily Star and Channel i. In these meetings, the Mayoral candidates made written commitments to rid their institutions of graft and corruption and also make public disclosures of their own income and wealth. SHUJAN volunteers also organized “Citizens’ Dialogue” in those areas. Similar initiatives were undertaken during the Upazila elections.
In recent Parliament elections, SHUJAN volunteers carried out a grassroots level clean candidate campaign. We prepared candidate profiles for all 300 constituencies and distributed them to the voters using our volunteer network. We have also held Candidate-Voter Face-to-face meetings in 87 constituencies. In addition, all the candidate profiles were uploaded on the web and several news briefings were also held to disseminate the information.
Your Support is Urgently Needed
Financial support for SHUJAN has so far come from our own pockets as well as from friends and well wishers. However, in future large sums of money will be need to continue the work of preparing candidate profiles in the coming elections and distributing those among the voters.
For further information, please contact with Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary, SHUJAN at 8801 711 526626; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.