The outcome of the battle of ballots on July 6 in the Gazipur City Corporation will neither unseat the Awami League from power nor extend its term by a few more months or years. This is a merely an election to a local government body. Locals are supposed to pick a mayor and some councilors who will work to provide Gazipur city people with various civic services. But the polls have become an issue of pride for the AL and the government in general. The AL desperately wants to win this election.
The Gazipur polls came hot on the heels of a humiliating defeat of the AL-backed mayoral aspirants to their rivals supported by BNP in the June 15 battle of the ballots in four city corporations of Rajshahi, Khulna, Barisal and Sylhet. The defeat has upset the high commands of AL who did not predict such a debacle. This was a political heart attack for the AL bigwigs. But they had to accept the results. Now they are desperately focused on the next battle in Gazipur. This time they need a win to recover from the colossal defeat.
The way the ruling AL has forced Jahangir Alam, a mayoral aspirant in the Gazipur polls, to quit the electoral race in favour of AL-backed candidate has been a glaring example of the party’s desperation to win the polls.
Jahangir, a former vice-president of pro-AL student body Bangladesh Chhatra League, had stepped down as vice chairman of Gazipur Sadar Upazila Parishad to contest the city polls. But Ajmat Ullah Khan, general secretary of Gazipur district AL, earned the party’s support to contest against the BNP-backed mayoral candidate.
Jahangir, who had built a strong network of supporters in the city with the money from his businesses, appeared as a big threat to the AL-backed candidate. So senior AL leaders advised him to withdraw his candidacy, as they took the Gazipur polls more seriously.
But Jahangir declined to quit, and got “Pineapple” as his electoral symbol on June 18. According to locals, later that night, he was picked up by some ex-Chhatra League leaders while campaigning in Tongi. A few hours later, news spread that he had met AL chief Hasina, and had decided to quit the race and work for Ajmat. For the next couple of days, his whereabouts remained unknown.
On Sunday, Jahangir appeared at a press conference at the AL office in Gazipur, and announced he would work for the AL-backed mayoral aspirant Ajmat in the polls. “I regard the prime minister [Sheikh Hasina] as my mother. I will work for him [Ajmat] according to her instructions and also for the sake of the party.”
The story of Jahangir is a threat to the country’s democracy. It has exposed the autocratic manner of our major political parties that refuse to listen to dissenting voices within the forums. This story also indicates a fragile state of the chain of command within the ruling AL. The prime minister herself had to intervene in ‘managing’ Jahangir. No other senior AL leader was able to do the job. Aren’t they holding any power in the party? Does all the power belong to Sheikh Hasina? If so, what will be fate of the party if it faces many rebel candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections? Will the AL-led government then bring an amendment to the electoral laws to serve partisan interests by punishing rebel candidates in the parliamentary elections?
The ruling AL in December last year, made such a proposal to the Election Commission to disqualify rebel candidates from contesting elections for two terms. The party had made the proposal as it has not been able to keep the house in order. Already, there are too many dissenting voices within and these may come to the forefront in the run up to the parliamentary polls. Therefore, it will not be surprising if the AL-led government finally amends the electoral laws to punish party rebels.
The story of the Gazipur polls also makes one more point for the opposition parties and others. If the ruling AL has become so desperate to win the Gazipur polls, what will it do to win the next parliamentary polls? Only a win in the parliamentary polls will allow a party to grab state power. The BNP-led opposition alliance needs a win in the next polls to come back to the power. The AL-led alliance needs the same too to retain in power. Both sides want to win. And who will ensure a level playing field for them? Is it the present AL-led government? The BNP-led alliance has vehemently been saying they would not accept the AL in office during the next parliamentary polls. They want restoration of a non-partisan neutral election time government. The AL on the other hand has been urging the BNP to keep confidence in the AL-led government. Even after the June 15 city polls, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has intensified the campaign against non-partisan election time government.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, as she said on June 20, does not know why the main opposition BNP is so hung up on puting the caretaker government in power again. But she knows for sure “if they come to power again they won’t hold elections and cling to power till dooms day”. The premier has also repeatedly said the main opposition BNP’s top brass will be put behind bars if the caretaker government retains power again.
“If the caretaker government comes again, she (Khaleda Zia) will land in jail. There is no doubt or confusion about it. No one will spare her and she must keep this in mind,” said Hasina.
The majority of people should believe in the prime minister’s words. But unfortunately, they do not believe what the premier has been saying on the caretaker government issue. Many people think this a strategy of Hasina to create panic among people about a non-partisan election time government. But this will not work as the free and fair parliamentary elections were held in past only when non-partisan governments were in office and the public knows this.
Source: The Daily Star