SHUJAN 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.
Key features of SHUJAN are:
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 and human chains. 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 Dialogues” 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.
Demystifying the Electoral Roll: 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 future 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 upholding of the historic High Court judgment (February 18, 2016) 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 have also been posting on our website the articles on political corruption published in major newspapers since early 2007.
In 2008 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.
During the 2014 elections, we prepared candidate profiles and compared the antecedents of candidates contesting in both 2008 and 2014 elections and posted them on our website. We also held press conferences to disseminate the information. However, because it was a one-sided, non-credible election, we did not hold Face-to-face events.
In every local elections since 2003, including in City Corporation, Paurashava, Upazila elections, we have been collecting the affidavits, creating candidate profiles, distributing those profiles among voters for helping them make informed decisions.
Advocacy using RTI and Supreme Court judgement in favour of SHUNAN: In 2016, we filed a writ and received a seminal judgment from the Bangladesh Supreme Court on RTI. In the judgment, the Court gave the decision that all information held by government entities are public information and are subject to disclosure and the citizens are entitled to receive them.
The SHUJAN is network of 22,529 active members of 1011 units across the country. Below are the demographics of this national network (as of 28 February 2018):
Geographical Distribution of SHUJAN Units
|Division||SHUJAN Units||SHUJAN Unit Members|
|District Units||Upazila Units||Union Units||Total Unit||District Units||Upazila Units||Union Units||Total Members|
Some Notable Achievements
- Our broad-based mobilization helped make the election of Rangpur City Corporation, held on December 21, 2017, free, fair and largely peaceful. We have been doing similar mobilization in all elections, both national and local, since 2003. During 2008 Parliament elections, we held 87 Face-to-face meeting, where candidates met the voters and answer their questions.
- SHUJAN has been instrumental in codifying major electoral reforms during 2007-08. We worked in partnership with Prothom Alo and The Daily Star, the two largest circulating newspapers of Bangladesh. The reform included compulsory registration of political parties, increasing the role of grassroot party members in nomination of candidates, requiring 33 percent representation of women in committees of all political parties and disbanding of all affiliated and associated bodies of political parties.
- We received a Court judgment 2007 requiring the disclosure of antecedents by candidates running for office. Since then, we have been implementing the Court judgment to empower the voters with information in order to help them make informed decisions.
- SHUJAN was instrumental in rewriting all local government laws of Bangladesh in 2007. Reforms included the provision of ward shavas (village assembly), open budget meetings and five-year plan.
- In 2016, SHUJAN received a Court judgment on RTI in which the Court declared that all information held by government authorities are public information and are subject to disclosure.