Rivals go into second phase of municipal polls today with nomination discontent
The second phase of battle of ballots between grassroots leaders of ruling Awami League and opposition BNP begins with polls to 63 municipalities of Dhaka division today.
Polls to 59 municipalities in Chittagong and Sylhet will be held tomorrow and the grassroots leaders believe that the results of the second phase would end the cliffhanger that developed in the polls of Barisal, Khulna, Rangpur and Rajshahi divisions.
This would also tell which camp is on top two years after the Awami League-led grand alliance assumed power.
Rebel candidates, however, appear to be a pain in the neck for both camps. Top echelons of the parties have even threatened to expel the rebels if they do not withdraw from the race and support party-backed candidates.
In the first phase of polls held last week in four divisions, AL-backed candidates won 40 out of 121 mayoral posts and pro-BNP candidates won 47. The rebel candidates from AL bagged 13 and BNP six. The results reflect a close fight between the two parties.
Awakened by the poor performance by party-backed candidates in the first phase, AL held the rebels responsible for losses in around 50 municipalities in the four northern and southern divisions.
AL leaders claimed that they have so far been able to tame 45 rebels, out of 129, in the three divisions that are to go to polls. They said those rebels have withdrawn from the race and are now backing the pro-AL candidates.
Boosted by the results of the first phase of polls, BNP is now more serious and have revamped grassroots activities. It too is facing the rebel problem. It blamed losses in 24 municipalities during the first phase on rebel candidates chipping away their-backed candidates’ votes.
Party chief Khaleda Zia has directed senior leaders to talk to the rebels and convince them into backing off and work for BNP-backed candidates.
The BNP-supported candidates are still facing competition from at least 75 rebels in today’s and tomorrow’s polls.
Even though non-partisan in nature, the local body elections see political parties picking candidates and throw their weight behind those candidates.
Security measures in the municipalities, which are going to polls, have been beefed up and in several centres where violence is being feared, Border Guard Bangladesh and army personnel will be deployed.
As many as 129 AL rebels will still be in the ballot papers challenging AL-backed mayoral candidates in 66 municipalities of Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet divisions.
In Dhaka division, there are 42 rebels in 23 municipalities, 76 in 33 municipalities of Chittagong and 11 in 10 municipalities of Sylhet.
There are four AL-rebels each in Gopalganj and Tungipara municipalities, considered the backyard of AL chief Sheikh Hasina.
The AL’s efforts, spearheaded by general secretary Syed Ashraful Islam, HT Imam, and Hanif, to defuse the situation had achieved little, party sources said. They said the steps were taken following party chief Sheikh Hasina’s directives.
They claimed that they managed to get 45 rebels to back off. Many of them, in Mymensingh, Noakhali, Habiganj and Brahmanbaria, have announced via megaphones in their areas that they are no more in the race and are supporting pro-AL candidates.
“We have tried our best to neutralise our rebels. For today, there is no time to withdraw…” AL Joint General Secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif told The Daily Star yesterday.
He said punitive organisational action would be taken against the rebels based on the gravity of the violation of party orders.
AL insiders said many grassroots leaders violated party orders to withdraw and warnings of punitive organisational action and threats of expulsion.
For instance, AL General Secretary Syed Ashraful Islam and party adviser HT Imam talked to district AL unit president and general secretary of Munshiganj to urge his son to withdraw from the race and support the party-backed candidate.
But they did not pay any heed, AL insiders said, adding that stern organisational action would be taken against both after the polls.
Either AL top leaders or local lawmakers are sheltering the rebels for their own interests, said insiders preferring not to be named.
After the first phase of voting, BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia on Friday and Saturday asked party’s standing committee member Nazrul Islam Khan and Senior Joint Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir to strengthen efforts to tame the rebels.
There are over 75 rebel mayoral candidates in BNP who are contesting along with party-backed candidates in municipalities of Dhaka, Sylhet and Chittagong, according to BNP findings.
It has so far expelled 10 rebel candidates in the three divisions for not supporting the party-backed mayoral candidates.
“Madam [BNP chief] even asked us to provide rebel candidates with the money they had already spent for their campaigns,” a BNP top leader told The Daily Star last night requesting anonymity.
The BNP chief also asked party’s senior leaders MK Anwar, Brig Gen (retd) ASM Hannan Shah and Ilias Ali to defuse internal disputes and discipline the rebels.
Contacted by The Daily Star yesterday Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said they could have won at least 24 more mayoral posts in the first phase of polls if there were no rebels there.
MK Anwar, convenor of BNP’s municipality election monitoring cell, told The Daily Star that it is difficult to rein in the rebels when there are only hours to go before polls.
Anwar, also the party’s standing committee member, said, “We are trying to convince our rebel candidates to stop their electioneering from a moral point of view.”
Moudud Ahmed, another standing committee member, told The Daily Star, “We are trying to peruse them so that rebel candidates extend their support to party-backed candidates,”
Hasan Jahid Tusher, Rashidul Hasan and Shakhawat Liton