Follow @southasiaanalys

Bangladesh: Mayoral Election in Khulna City: Its Significance.

Paper  No. 6383                           Dated 2-June-2018
By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan
In the run up to the General elections, the Mayoral elections to be held on May 15 in Gazipur and Khulna were taken seriously by the two main parties- the Awami League and the BNP as both felt that it would give them an opportunity to test their strength and popularity.
Prestigous Issue for both Parties:
Since both the cities were considered to be their strongholds, the BNP naturally  was very keen to take it as a “challenge” to prove their popularity. In fact the BNP had designated two standing Committee members as coordinators for the conduct of the polls.
The Awami league had also taken the polls equally seriously as it considered these as a crucial test of its chances in the coming national elections.
Just on the eve of the elections, one Awami League member filed for a stay order on the Gazipur elections and  a stay of three months had been given by the High Court.  The contention of the petitioner (Azharul Islam Suraj) was that six mouzas of his Shimula Union Parishad have been incorporated into Gazipur City without proper legal scrutiny.  
The point that arose was that -how come that a supremely confident party like Awami League who were sure of winning the mayoral post allowed one of its members to get a stay order when the issue was not one that arose recently but had been simmering for the last four decades?  Perhaps they were not sure of the results or that they were not yet ready for the elections!   At any rate, the Supreme Court lifted the stay order, but it was too late for Election Commission to conduct the polls as scheduled on the 15th of May and therefore re scheduled for June 26th of this year.
Had the polls in Gazipur city Corporation also been conducted, the results from both the mayoral polls of Khulna and Gazipur would have given a certain indication of the trend for the national elections.  Gazipur City Corporation is a much bigger one and the results would have given a better picture.  See the table below:
                                                           Gazipur City                          Khulna City
No. of Voters                                   11,37,736                                 4,96,454
No. of Wards                                                57                                           31
No. of Reserved seats                                   19                                           10
No. of Candidates for Mayor                          7                                             5
No. of Councillor Aspirants                         256                                         148
No. of reserved seats                                      84              38
In the end, elections could only take place for Khulna City Corporation. The Awami League Mayoral candidate Talukder Abdul Khalique won having polled 1,74,851 votes as against the BNP candidate Nazrul Islam Monju who polled 1,09,251.
The following observations can be made on the results:
* If only elections had taken place for both the cities certain definite conclusions could be made as both were BNP strong holds and the incumbents belonged to BNP.  The success of the Awami League in the smaller Khulna elections only shows the trend.
* Both the parties took it as a prestige issue and the elections were held for the first time on party lines.
* In the elections, national issues were dominating and not the regional or local ones- a clear indication that both the parties considered the elections as a preliminary round to the national election coming towards the end of the year.
*    There were no major law and order problems and according to the Election Commission, elections were “peaceful and excellent.”  There were stray incidents and polling in 3 out of 289 voting centres had to be postponed.
* The Army significantly was not deployed but the RAB and the BGB were in position to take care of possible untoward incidents.  Though not in Khulna, the Police arrested a JEM cadre in Gazipur with 15 petrol bombs, 4 cocktails and jihadi books.  In the election in Gazipur, the JEM cadre had withdrawn his candidature in favour of the BNP candidate.
* In the past the BNP had won in 3 out of 4 Mayoral polls in Khulna and the present loss is considered to be a serious setback as the City is considered to be a BNP stronghold!
* There were as usual serious allegations from the losing party that there was a heavy showdown of the ruling party, stuffing of ballot boxes, and intimidation of BNP voters who were prevented from voting etc  These were being looked into by the Election Commission.
Though the Awami League leadership is elated over the results, an accurate assessment can be made only after the Gazipur Mayoral polls scheduled for June 26 are conducted.  What is clear is the trend that the Awami League is winning and that BNP despite its handicaps has done reasonably well.  The electoral alliances of both the parties are in tact and would continue to be so till the next national elections.