The Narayanganj City Corporation election held this week has lifted the spirits of everyone involved or even just interested in electoral politics in Bangladesh. In all fairness, this particular mayoral election, held for the first time in 2011, has rather stood apart in the last 10 years or so as one that is always guaranteed to produce a worthy contest. Allegations of underhanded tactics and vote-stealing are of course always hurled by the losing candidates- that is almost instinctive by now for Bangladeshis who end up on the wrong side of any contest. Elections even more so! In Narayanganj these have tended to stick even less. And hurl what you may, everything is bound to fall by the wayside next to the obvious and unquestionably well-earned popularity amongst her constituents, of Dr Selina Hayat Ivy.
The point to note about the three NCC elections till now, all of them won handily by Ivy, is that none of them were even close in the final analysis. Yes, her margin of victory has dwindled in each successive election. From that stunning result in 2011, when as the original rebel candidate she beat ruling party heavyweight in the Narayanganj industrial belt, Shamim Osman (now Member of Parliament), by over 102,000 votes to set in motion her juggernaut, to the unprecedented yet calm and assured hattrick of election victories she achieved this week with a margin closer to 70,000, her popularity has actually not dimmed one bit. The smaller margins merely reflect the progressively lower turnout reported in the elections - from 69 percent in 2011 to 62 percent in 2016 to the 56 percent provisionally reported this time around.
Next to the prime minister, she is the longest serving people's representative with executive authorities still active today. Her defiant political branding - always on the side of the underdog, constantly in close touch with her people, remaining among them, and ready to eschew orthodoxies and received wisdom in the interests of serving those who have put her in the position she is today, is a political ethos worth emulating. She has emerged as the embodiment of the famous line in the constitution where it says "All power is derived from the people."
To be sure, Narayanganj is no oasis to venture on a weekend morning, just a short drive away from the capital. Its political and industrial contexts are every bit as cutthroat and opaque, and treachery alternates with criminality and clan interests at almost every intersection. Its trade links date back centuries of course, when it thrived as a centre for the jute trade, and became known as the 'Dundee of the East'. Today it is trying to stand up again and reinvent itself as a forward facing, self-confident town on the southern edge of Dhaka, just a hop across the Sitalakkhya River (whatever you do, don't call it a suburb of Dhaka!), and quite clearly through three successive votes for mayor, they have signaled their faith in Ivy's unassuming leadership style, that is complemented by unquestionable dedication and commitment to the cause of her people - that perhaps cannot be differentiated from her own. And that, more often than not, makes for a winning combination.
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