Even when things go relatively well for them, the Election Commission seems adept at contriving a way to upset their own apple cart. Voting was held in two important local elections in Khulna and Barishal in a relatively peaceful atmosphere this week, where the two ruling Awami League-nominated mayoral candidates became victorious, defeating their closest contestants from the Islami Andolan Bangladesh (IAB) by a margin of over 90,000 and 50,000 votes, respectively.
Victory for the AL in the Khulna polls was anticipated by many due to the popularity of veteran politician Talukder Abdul Khaleque, who became the mayor of the Khulna City Corporation (KCC) for the third time. There was some interest however in Barishal, where no one was sure of what effect the fraternal rivalry among the ruling party leaders would have on the election itself, after the immediate-past mayor, Serniabat Sadiq Abdullah, did not get the nomination. Instead, the party chose his uncle, Abul Khair Abdullah alias Khokon Serniabat. Although in the early days of the campaign the AL leadership in the city tried to feign a united front, as days went by it became clear that all was not well inside the camp. It all culminated in the outgoing mayor not even showing up on the day of the election. Turnout suffered, down significantly from last time in both cases.
The BNP of course boycotted the election and permanently expelled 19 leaders, including a mayoral aspirant, in Barishal and nine in Khulna for joining the race. Similar steps have been taken in the cases of Gazipur, Sylhet and Rajshahi, where mayor elections have been held or are due in the coming weeks.
So far, so good - and an important boost to the boat symbol ahead of the next national election, especially after the debacle it suffered in Gazipur. The Election Commission did not receive any allegations of vote rigging or influencing voters, apart from a few isolated incidents here and there that could in no way be said to reflect on the overall state of polling.
One such incident, albeit a serious one, occurred in Barishal, where the IAB's candidate, Mufti Syed Mohammad Faizul Karim, the party's nayeb-e-ameer, came under attack at a polling centre. A video of him tearfully registering his complaint with the local OC, blood dripping from his face, quickly went viral. Attacks on candidates must always be viewed in a more serious light than any other act of random electoral violence - the 2018 election was arguably marred more seriously by the record number of opposition candidates who came under attack during the campaign period, than all the allegations of 'midnight voting', for which there is no concrete proof.
However, the chief election commissioner ruined what could have gone down as a good outing with his callous remark when his attention was drawn to the attack on the IAB candidate, at a post-election press conference. We would rather not repeat it here, but it became the soundbyte of the election coverage, and gave the opposition exactly what it needed to castigate the electoral process again. It also raised question marks on whether the CEC is in over his head, and whether he truly realises the great responsibility on his shoulders. Ultimately, these mayoral elections matter little. The question remains, are he and his colleagues up to the task of handling the big one, where already it is clear, the entire world will be watching?
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