Who will be the King of the North?

Zafar Sobhan

Annisul Huq versus Mintoo would have been a superb contest between two well-respected heavyweights, and would have offered voters a clear choice between AL and BNP

Game on.

There are now 18 days before the Dhaka mayoral elections, and with yesterday being the last date for withdrawal of candidacies, the race can now begin in earnest.

However, one major omission from the final line-up is that of Abdul Awal Mintoo, who was slated to be the BNP-backed candidate for the mayoralty of Dhaka North, but whose nomination was cancelled by the Election Commission on what looks like the flimsiest of grounds.

Now it is true that according to the letter of the law that Mintoo’s nomination papers were flawed, and that it was within the discretion of the appellate authority to refuse to allow him to correct the error.

But, seriously.

Yes, it was a blunder on the part of Mintoo to not ensure that his nominator and seconder were registered voters in the mayoral election. So stipulated. But the fact remains that it was an honest mistake.

I mean, come on. Who knew that Uttara-13 was not technically a part of Dhaka city?

In fact, it is even worse than that. Mysteriously, some voters in Uttara-13 are considered part of the Dhaka electorate, and others are not.

Unfortunately for Mintoo, his nominator and seconder fall into the latter category, and the election law does not allow him to question the electoral roll, however silly or wrong its demarcations.

Anyone reading this can see how keeping him out of the race on these grounds was patently absurd. While the EC technically had the authority to deny him the right to participate, there was no bar, either in the spirit or the letter of the law, to allowing him to correct the error and contest.

It seems to me that the EC should always err on the side of allowing fuller participation in an election, and that its petty and pettifogging decision to keep Mintoo out was both undemocratic and uncalled for. It certainly wasn’t the way to convince a skeptical public of its neutrality and independence.

We were all looking forward to these elections as the opportunity to see what people had to say about the performance of the AL government since it returned to power in the one-sided January 5 elections a year ago. And Annisul Huq versus Mintoo in Dhaka North was supposed to be the marquee match-up.

In addition, it was hoped that the elections might be the first of many confidence-building measures that would help nudge the political process back on track and pull the nation back from the crisis of the past three months.

The BNP agreeing to participate by backing candidates in the April 28 mayoral races was a major victory for the political process and the most positive and hopeful sign on the political horizon we had seen since the fiasco of January 5 last year.

Annisul Huq versus Mintoo would have been a superb contest between two well-respected heavyweights, both former heads of the FBCCI among other accomplishments and achievements, and would have offered voters a clear choice between AL and BNP.

Whoever prevailed, the result would have been unambiguous, and would have told us a lot about the public’s state of mind.  It would have provided an extraordinarily valuable lesson for both AL and BNP.

Now, with the BNP being denied their first choice candidate, the results will be far less satisfactory, and will perhaps tell us far less than they might have.

Still, there is plenty to fight for. In the first place, Dhaka South and Chittagong both look likely to see highly competitive elections, with both sides being able to field their preferred candidates.

And it is not as though Dhaka North will necessarily be  a cake-walk for Annis, even without Mintoo.

In his absence, his son Tabith Awal, will be flying the flag, and most political commentators I have polled think well of him, and opine that he will give a good account of himself and has it in him to surprise the naysayers. He shouldn’t be underestimated.

Then there is Mahi B Chowdhury, the one candidate in the North with the proven ability to connect with the voters, and whose political gifts are apparent to anyone who has ever seen him on the stump or working a crowd. Even without major party backing, he can be a factor.

Perhaps the most interesting of all the candidates in the North is long-time political activist Zonayed Saki, who is running on a change ticket and hopes to appeal to voters weary of both AL and BNP.

He is committed and charismatic and has put together a formidable political operation. If the public really is fed up with the antics of both major parties and looking for an alternative, then now could be his moment.

The key is for all candidates to be able to campaign freely and without hindrance and for the voting on election day to be smooth and trouble-free. It remains to be seen whether the elections on April 28 pass muster or not, but with so much at stake and the government under such scrutiny to deliver, we have a real chance to get the political process back on track.

Let us hope that come April 28 that the EC delivers, and that come what may we have elections that are free, fair, and fully contested. It has been too long, and the Bangladeshi public wants to be heard.

Source: Dhaka Tribune

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