The third Narayanganj City Corporation elections is set to be held on Sunday, January 16. Campaigning for the election must end at midnight on Friday. On the two previous occasions it was held (since Narayanganj became a city for administrative purposes, with its own city corporation led by a mayor), the NCC election captured the imagination of the entire country - particularly the first time in 2011. It was very much the arrival on the scene of Dr Selina Hayat Ivy.

The original 'rebel candidate', she took on and defeated the Awami League's heavyweight in the area, Shamim Osman, by over 100,000 voters. That was the start of her enduring rivalry with Shamim - the two torchbearers of two very different strands of the Awami League in Narayanganj. Shamim Osman is fond of recalling that the League was founded in the house he grew up in. Indeed, his father was a founding member of the Awami Muslim League, and Sheikh Mujib was a frequent visitor to their house. He was very much a part of the bourgeoisie wing of the party. Ivy's late father, Ali Ahmed Chunkha, on the other hand represented the labour movement within the Awami League. His instincts were well to the left of the party.

In 2016, Ivy won again - this time as the Awami League candidate. Shamim by then had moved to parliament, as one of the unopposed core of 2014. He did look to deprive Ivy the AL nomination, but the party's central command defied the recommendation of its Narayanganj unit - with which Shamim held great influence- to back the popular incumbent.

This time, according to our sister newsagency UNB, the election is set to be held in a more joyous atmosphere. Councillor candidates can be seen campaigning hard in every ward. The entire winter season has been flavoured by the election.

Although not among the 7 names on the ballot for mayor, what Shamim Osman does and which way he swings has been at the centre of discussions surrounding the election once again. Although his personal equation with Ivy is possibly irredeemable - as anyone who has seen their open warfare on the set of a private television channel can understand- questions were being raised as to whether his drive to put one over Ivy was making him even neglect his duty towards his party by not campaigning for the candidate. This week Ivy threw a spanner in the works by alleging the man being viewed as her principal rival in the election - Advocate Taimur Alam Khandaker, a veteran BNP leader who is fighting as an independent (the BNP is boycotting polls under the current EC)- is actually the candidate of the Osman brothers, Shamim and BKMEA president Selim Osman.

Things came to a head this week, with Shamim forced to hold a press briefing where without naming Ivy, he announced he would start actively campaigning for the AL in the upcoming Narayanganj City Corporation Election. In the presence of many local AL activists and supporters, Shamim Osman said, "The game will be on and we will win it on January 16."

Following his announcement, most of the AL leaders, activists in Narayanganj were seen in full campaign mode for the AL-nominated candidate.

Earlier in the day Ivy, while campaigning in Ward 21 in Bandar area, once again said: "It has become clear from Taimur's activities that he is the candidate nominated by Shamim Osman."

This was the same claim she made earlier, that ruffled feathers in the AL high command and forced Shamim Osman to come out and clarify his stance ahead of the election today. AL hierarchy had made it known that if there was any truth found to Ivy's claim, Shamim Osman would be disciplined within the party structure.

Regarding Shamim Osman's support, Ivy said, "I did not say I won't need his support. The party has nominated me and the partisans and voters will cast votes for me. If one or two votes don't get cast it will not matter."

Taimur Alam Khandakar while campaigning in ward-27 said, "My opponent is assuming I got support from certain people and is trying to assassinate my character."

Taimur said his party activists, leaders are being threatened through police visits to their homes. His coordinator and campaign in-charge, also convener of District BNP Monirul Islam Robi, was arrested by police from his residence in Hirajhil.

He urged the people of Narayanganj to pay no heed to any propaganda and said, "A lot of oppression will come but we will need to march forward facing all of this."

Meanwhile Shamim kept insisting there is no way for him to go against nouka. Narayanganj is considered by to be a base of the party.

Needless to say, even with case numbers rising, the health protocols in place for the pandemic have been flouted at will during electioneering. The government issued a new 11-point directive, to be active from January 14. However, no candidate is expected to follow these instructions on the last day of the campaign, or for that matter on the day of the vote.

In this regard, the district civil surgeon said hygiene rules will be effective in Narayanganj from midnight Thursday, after which everyone will be forced to obey the rules.

Going for a hattrick

Despite the presence of the six other candidates on the ballot, there can be no doubt that Ivy is the overwhelming favourite to complete her hattrick as NCC mayor. She is campaigning from dawn to dusk, and it seems wherever she goes, she is being showered in love by her supporters, who tend to come out in full force. By now she is used to waving back with her pleasant smile to acknowledge their support.

At a time when the electoral mechanism of the country has been going through a crisis, Ivy has emerged as a true people's representative, having passed the test of both popularity and principle through the hard-earned votes of the public.

She only gets upset when that one name comes up.

"I don't want to talk about Shamim Osman," she burst out at reporters Thursday. "You don't let me work in the field. Why keep dragging his name in? He is Nouka's man, where else will he go?"

The women and youth voter segments are expected to play a pivotal role in the NCC election this year. At the moment extensive analysis is going on in every corner of the city about who or what will be the deciding factor in the election. Candidates' qualifications or popularity or party symbol, or women and the youth? Who will decide the new voters? All the 26 wards of NCC are at present buzzing with these questions.

From talking to people of different classes and professions, this time it is felt that some new factors will work towards deciding the mayoral election. Probably it will be a combination of factors. The voters' chief expectation is that they are able to go and cast their own vote, so that the result is a reflection of their will.

This time in the NCC elections the number of voters is 517,358 (5 lakh 17 thousand 358). Of these, 259,000 and 256,000 are female voters. There are some 42, 418 first-time voters. It is felt that whoever wants to win the election must bag a major chunk of the first-timers.

Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Yarn Merchants Association's president Liton Saha has been caught up in a coercion scandal ahead of the election, through the leak of a video Wednesday night on social media that quickly went viral. As seen in the video, Liton on behalf of one of the candidates is asking for votes on the pretext of religion and saving Hindus. Basad Nikhil Das posted a status in this regard on social media where he asked for the immediate arrest of Saha for exploiting religion to ask for votes.

Numerous attempts to contact Liton throughout Thursday were unsuccessful. However, the assistant returning officer of the area Matiur Rahman said action would be taken if anyone complained formally.

Meanwhile, Selina Hayat Ivy on Thursday conducted day-long campaign in wards 16, 17 and 19. Taimur Alam Khandaker campaigned in the 11th and 15th wards. Particularly in ward 16, Ivy received a rousing reception and people - men, women both - all came out to see her. It is after all her own area.

Old wounds

Taimur Alam Khandaker during the campaign repeatedly asked his leaders and workers to maintain distance by following the health rules. He has also increased his complaints about the administration not letting him and his workers campaign freely, with increased police visits to their houses.

Ivy said on law and order centring the election, "If the situation is deteriorating then the administration is there. Surely they will see it. I don't have time to watch that. I have to go the people and ask for their votes. The law and order situation the administration will see. Here the administration is working jointly. It is their responsibility to take care of it."

She also said some problems would be there before election, but also said the administration is "extremely aware".

"They will take care of these. I will tell my voters to go and vote in a festive atmosphere. There have been three previous elections in Narayanganj. There too there was tension. But everyone went to vote, and the environment was extremely beautiful. I will make a request to the law enforcement, that the atmosphere in Narayanganj should be beautiful and festive. Make arrangements accordingly," Ivy said.

Regarding the arrest of Khandaker's leaders and activists and election agents, Selina Hayat Ivy said, "I don't know who is being caught where. I just heard a BNP leader, who had a Hefazat-related case in his name, was arrested. And who is being caught, it's not even a matter of my knowledge. I am busy all day, I am not involved in any violence. I never told anyone to arrest someone."

In the end, the only thing that may count against Ivy is that the once-rebel has by now become very much part of the establishment, as her comment on the law and order situation above reflects. The AL's famed electoral symbol, nouka, has taken a real beating in the recent Union Parishad elections, where by the fifth phase independent 'rebel' candidates were winning big , and winning more of the chairman posts up for grabs, despite scores of AL chairmen being elected unopposed.

Taimur has kept complaining that due to the activities of the police, a scary atmosphere has been created around the NCC election.

"But people are not afraid. My leaders and workers are united. Those who are in the international embassies, everyone who is a human rights activist, I ask you all to observe the selection. Why the homes of our leaders must be visited by police? Even non-BNP supporters who support me are facing pressure," he alleged.

Regarding his chances, Taimur Alam said: "The leaders and workers of my party will not vote for nouka. Meanwhile the government party's leaders and workers are dissolving their committee. It is clear to us that there is great discord within them- even their guests from Dhaka have not been able to come and resolve the issues."

He further added, "You cannot bully someone into voting for you. The elephant (his electoral symbol) is now the brand of the people. Through elephant change will come."

On the other hand, although Shamim Osman made the announcement that he would work for the boat, the people's doubts about him are not going away. Ivy herself still can't take his promise seriously. Generally it is felt that as long as the Osman family is on board and actively in the field for Ivy, her victory is assured. But Shamim Osman's press conference this week failed to convince too many people. There is still a feeling for some reason that the Osman family is with Taimur Alam Khandaker, because they can never be with Ivy.

More EC failures

The Election Commission (EC) is "depriving voters of their rights" by not disclosing wealth information of candidates, Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan) said ahead of the elections.

"We've seen that the (Election) Commission stopped disclosing wealth statements of candidates from the Dhaka City Corporation polls (held in 2020). Similar situation is observed in the Narayanganj City Corporation polls," said Shujan Secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar.

Wealth disclosure helps a voter make informed choice when electing candidates. "But the EC is depriving voters," he said.

"The EC is a constitutional organisation. It is a free organisation. We want to ask the Election Commission whose interest it is serving?" -- he added.

Shujan's Treasurer Syed Abu Naser Bukhtear Ahmed said that it is observed, after serving five years, wealth statement of a public representative swelled four to five times.

"How is it possible? These information help voters to choose the right candidate," he said.

They said this at a press conference on disclosing information on candidates of Narayanganj City Corporation election and demanding fair and free polls. Shujan organised the press conference on a virtual platform.

According to Shujan, seven are vying in the mayoral race while 148 for councillor posts and 34 in reserved seats.

Of them, 120 candidates have either passed SSC or failed to complete school education. Of the seven mayoral candidates, two are businessmen, one lawyer, one physician and two are service holders. One candidate did not disclose his occupation.

Three mayor candidates are facing criminal cases. Forty councillors are facing cases and eight are facing charges in murder cases.

A candidate and NCC's running Mayor Ivy, who declared her profession as doctor, has the highest annual income -- Tk 19.38 lakh earned through mayorship. Fifty-eight candidates has wealth less than Tk 5 lakh and 14 candidates have wealth over Tk 1 crore.

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