An election manifesto is actually the formal declaration of the political party promoting new policies, beneficiary schemes and other welfare programmes with the intention of bringing remarkable changes in the current situations and development of the nation. Election manifestos are usually prepared by the political parties keeping an eye on the forthcoming elections.
Political parties are well versed with the electoral politics and the determinants of voting behaviour. Hence, they frame all the policies, beneficiary schemes, welfare programmes in such a way they address the people’s burning issues and long term desirables. The major voting determinants like caste, religion, language, current events, and local issues determine the way of election campaigning, in which all revolves around the election manifesto. Election manifesto contains the ideology, policies and programmes of the political party for the welfare of the people. Election manifesto acts as the reference document for the election campaigning. It reaches the voters by means of various election campaigning processes. At the time of election voters compare the election manifestos of all the contesting political parties in the forthcoming elections and make their choice based on that.
An election manifesto is important in a democratic country where the people, before deciding who to vote for, get the opportunity to know the goals of the political parties that want to run for the elections. An integral part of political party campaigning is the use of party manifestos to outline the vision of a political party. Democratic values are indeed entrenched in accountability. A manifesto is therefore very useful and serves as an important benchmark for measuring the performance of a government and ensuring that it becomes accountable to the electorate based on the promises outlined in the manifesto. Manifestoes have long been important primary documents of political parties in established democracies all over the world as meaningful sources of information regarding a party’s position on a wide range of developmental issues. It is worthwhile to mention that in an attempt either to capture or hold on to power, manifestos are sometimes embellished with unrealistic promises. Indeed, one of the challenges that confront multiparty democracy is the contention between political party manifestoes and national aspirations in setting long term national development agenda.
Much as a manifesto is an important document worthy of consideration in a democratic dispensation, it is prudent to state that when development plans are clothed in political colours in the form of political party manifestos, it becomes difficult for succeeding governments to use them even when the issues discussed have overall national importance. As political parties spell out their programmes for development as enshrined in their manifestos it would be appropriate for national visions and aspirations to take centre stage when they have the opportunity to govern. As such, political parties would do the nation a great service if they ensure that they relate their manifestoes to such a strategic framework which carry the development vision of the entire nation.
Election manifestoes generate significant public interests. In the election time, both media and concerned citizens take greater interests in the manifestoes of the prominent political parties. In the 9th parliamentary elections of Bangladesh, almost all the political parties presented their party manifestos having promises and proclamations for the establishment of good governance in the country. It is observed that the election manifesto was declared based on partisan point beyond alliance view although alliance was formed centred upon election. The Awami League (AL) has termed its manifesto as ‘a charter for change’. On the other hand, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has initiated their document with ‘save the country, save the people’ slogan. While the BNP manifesto is a 36-point charter of promises, the AL manifesto contains 23 broad pledges placed against the backdrop of a vision for Bangladesh by the year 2021. The Awami League won a landslide victory in the ninth parliamentary elections in December, 2008 as its manifesto received a widespread response for its call for a change. The party also came out with the Vision 2021. By that time, it wanted to see the 50-year old Bangladesh becoming a middle-income country. The main slogan was ‘Digital Bangladesh’.
In the 10th parliamentary elections of Bangladesh Awami League publicised the party’s plans and pledges. The party’s manifesto ‘Vision-2041’ contains the slogan ‘Peace, democracy, development and progress – Bangladesh moves forward’. The promises contained in the manifesto had drawn an overwhelming response, helping the party win a landslide victory.
Election manifestos are vision and mission of contestant political parties that stand for upcoming election. This is an agenda for future plan made by the political parties for the nation. If any political party wins the election, it is bound to implement what was pre-committed with the people. Election manifestos may have lost their earlier importance. But a closer look at them does reveal a lot about a political party’s own assessment of where it went wrong and what its future policy directions will look like. Election manifestos shouldn’t be reduced to such promotional pamphlets. It should explain how a party plans to reach its goals. We need the two major political parties to tell us, unambiguously, where they stand on all issues confronting the country. Granted, that all promises made in a manifesto are unlikely to be kept.
(The author acknowledges with gratitude the different sources of information.)
The writer is an Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration, Jagannath University