The 3 city corporation elections on July 30 went largely according to plan for the ruling party, barring a glitch in Sylhet. All three witnessed an attempt to implement ‘the Khulna model’ of managed or controlled elections discussed previously in these pages on the part of the authorities, and in at least two of them, it worked out for them perfectly.
The results should never reflect the legitimacy or otherwise of an election, and so based on news reports and allegations made by practically all the candidates (except those of the ruling party) on Election Day, plus what transpired in the days leading up to it, the overwhelming conclusion must be that the Election Commission failed once again in holding polls that the public could put their faith in.
One way of assessing the legitimacy or otherwise of a poll is to gather the views of those candidates who ran in the elections but were not in the running to win, that is, from outside the two leading parties. As the polls closed in the three city corporations on Monday, these were some of their views:
The Left Democratic Alliance (LDA), a platform of eight left-leaning organisations, demanded re-elections to the three city corporations in Rajshahi, Barisal and Sylhet. It termed the polls a “farce”.
In a statement, leaders of LDA said the elections were nothing but continuation of government’s “absolute rule” that has been established after 2014.
It demanded resignation of the government before the national polls. It also urged it to form a non-partial and acceptable election-time government through discussion.
Communist party of Bangladesh (CPB) also demanded re-elections, saying the EC “failed to hold fair polls”.
CPB President Mujahidul Islam Selim and General Secretary Shah Alam said through the three city polls, the government made it clear that there was no scope for free and fair election under the incumbent government and the EC.
Independent candidate Ehsanul Mahbub Zubair in Sylhet briefed the media at his main election camp in Electric Supply area, an hour before voting closed, according to the Dhaka Tribune.
“Awami League-backed mayor candidate’s [Kamran] supporters kicked out polling agents from at least 50 centres. I have names of 21 centres which were captured by them. I will file an official complaint,” he said.
No candidate from outside the ruling alliance in any of the three cities praised the conduct of the polls.
A tragedy foretold
In Barisal, the BNP and four other parties boycotted the polls, alleging ballot stuffing and ousting of their polling agents by the ruling party men. The polls in Sylhet were rejected by the BNP and two other parties on the same grounds. They demanded a re-election. In Rajshahi, the BNP mayoral candidate refused to cast his vote citing his frustration.
The common picture of the three cities was the ruling party supporters or activists wearing badges of boat, the electoral symbol of AL, turned up in huge number and took control of the premises, entrances and even inside of the many polling stations in a gross violation of the electoral law. The BNP polling agents were missing at many of the centres.
As per electoral rules, no campaigns and show of strength like gatherings are allowed within 400 yards of the centres during the voting. Anyone violating this may face up to two years in prison. But this rule is hardly enforced in elections these days.
A huge number of law enforcers were deployed in the cities but they mostly played the role of silent spectators. This is in contrast to the leading role they played in the days leading up to the elections, when it was the Election Commission that was seen to be playing a silent role, as complaints piled up regarding violations of the polls code of conduct by ruling party candidates. The police however, were very active arresting hundreds of BNP workers and leaders, that probably led to the dearth of BNP polling agents in many centres on the day of the election.
The returning officers announced the results around midnight. The counts showed that AL’s AHM Khairuzzaman Liton secured 1,65,096 votes in Rajshahi, while Mosaddek Hossain Bulbul of BNP, the immediate-past mayor, bagged 77,700. Turnout at the election was said to be a very high 77 percent.
In Barisal, ruling party candidate Serniabat Sadik Abdullah, son of veteran AL leader Abul Hasnat Abdullah, got 1,07,353 votes and BNP’s Mujibur Rahman Sarwar, one of 5 candidates who boycotted the poll midway through voting, bagged 13,135. Voting was cancelled in 16 polling centres. Despite that, the turnout figure was a healthy 52 percent.
In Sylhet, the BNP bucked the trend as party candidate Ariful Haque Chowdhury was leading by a small margin, securing 90,496 votes while Badruddin Ahmed Kamran of AL got 85,870, with 132 out of 134 centres counted. Ariful was leading by 4,628 votes while the number of voters in the centres where voting was suspended, is 4,787. Under such circumstances, Returning Officer Mohammad Alimuzzaman postponed the announcement of the results around 11:45pm. The turnout figure was 55 percent.
The people’s victory?
Though he had demanded reelection bringing allegations of various irregularities, BNP Sylhet city mayoral candidate Ariful Haque Chowdhury later resorted to the line that “people restored their rights braving all odds”, after it was announced that he had opened up a lead of 4,626 votes in 132 centres out of 134.
The announcement of the results was postponed in Sylhet as the number of votes in two centres where voting was suspended is slightly higher than the difference between the two leading candidates’ tallies.
Ariful bagged 90,496 votes while Awami League’s Badar Uddin Ahmed Kamran polled 85,870. The BNP candidate now needs only 162 votes in the reelection to the postponed centres having a total of 4,877 voters.
Returning Officer Md Alimuzzaman announced the results of the 132 centres at Abul Maal Abdul Muhith Sports Complex on Monday night. Alimuzzaman said he would send the results to the Election Commission for finalising the decision on the polls.
In his reaction to results, Ariful, also the immediate past mayor, told reporters that, “People have established their rights amid various plots and terror acts. The people of Sylhet have also proved that they don’t compromise with unfair acts.”
He also said his victory will be the victory of the people of Sylhet city. “It will also be the victory of democracy against conspiracy.”
As his attention was drawn to his previous comments rejecting the results, Ariful said he had made those remarks to denounce the vote rigging and election irregularities. On Monday afternoon, Ariful lodged various complaints of rigging votes and other irregularities with the returning officer and demanded reelection.