• Thursday, December 18, 2014

Freedom in the air

By-polls Today

It's Osmans vs N'ganj people

Shakhawat Liton

The mighty Osman family of Narayanganj today faces power of commoners who will exercise their authority through ballots in a parliamentary by-election there, deciding the fate of an Osman aspirant.
Their verdict will also determine whether the political dominance of the family already mired in controversy for unlawful activities of its members will receive a blow or be consolidated further.
Voters of the Narayanganj-5 constituency have got the scope to express their will through ballots after more than six years. The last time they exercised their franchise was in the December 2008 parliamentary polls.
They were denied suffrage in the one-sided January 5 parliamentary polls as Nasim Osman, a member of the Osman family and who had allegedly been a crime lord of the city, was elected MP unopposed from the constituency. His recent death necessitated the voting again, allowing some 3.42 lakh voters to express their opinions.
Almost half of these voters, however, had got opportunities to express their choice in a fierce battle of ballots in the 2011 mayoral polls contested between Shamim Osman, an Osman who is feared by locals for his alleged control over the crime world of Narayanganj, and Selina Hayat Ivy.
In the battle, people had rejected ruling Awami League-backed Shamim and opted for Ivy, a candidate with clean image. She defeated Shamim by a huge margin of more than one lakh votes.

However, with the AL's blessings, Shamim was elected MP unopposed from a Naryanganj constituency in the controversial January 5 polls.
But his close link to Noor Hossain, the prime suspect of Narayanganj's gruesome seven-murder incident, brought him in the limelight and the criminalisation in politics of the city has been a crucial issue in the run up to the by-polls.
His brother Selim Osman nominated by Jatiya Party is facing huge challenge to his bid to get elected from independent contender SM Akram, a former AL lawmaker with a clean image.
Politics centring the by-polls has taken an interesting shape and is likely to determine the outcome of the battle.
Selim's late brother Nasim too contested the January 5 polls with JP ticket and was elected unopposed. Though his party has no stronghold there, Nasim came out victorious in 2008 parliamentary election as a JP candidate with AL's support.
Like the previous two parliamentary polls, the AL did not field any candidate this time as well in support of Selim.
This, however, does not mean that all AL leaders, activists and supporters will vote for Selim. The AL in Narayanganj faces a split between the supporters of Osman family and those against them. Shamim Osman, along with his men, is working relentlessly to ensure his brother's win.
In the secrecy of polling booths, the anti-Osman people, however, may opt for SM Akram, who resigned from the ruling party protesting the AL's support to Shamim Osman instead of Ivy in the 2011 city mayoral polls.
It is almost certain that those loyal to city mayor Ivy, also an AL leader who waged a war on criminal activities of the Osmans, wish Akram a win in this battle.
Besides, local BNP leaders have already announced that they would work to ensure defeat of Osman family in the by-polls. So, the BNP's present stance is supposed to  appear as a blessing for Akram to overcome the hurdle. A few local BNP leaders, however, are secretly working for the Osman family, according to sources.
Akram is likely to draw votes of those who are associated with  different cultural and civil society organisations and have been vocal against criminal activities in Narayanganj for a long time and blaming the Osman family for most of these.
The outcomes of the battle will also drag Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina in the discussion as she has recently promised to stay beside the Osman family.
Given all these aspects, the by-election has taken the centre stage in the current political situation. The high voltage polls also triggered fear of violence and rigging.
It also appears to be a crucial issue for the Election Commission to hold the polls in a free and peaceful manner. It would be interesting to watch the EC role in Narayanganj today particularly after the apathy the commission displayed to extensive rigging and violence in the upazila polls earlier this year.
On EC's directives, the local administration has beefed up security to maintain peaceful atmosphere during polling.
"But there is still an amount of uncertainty whether the administration and the law enforcement agencies will play effective role in ensuring free and fair election," an EC official working for the by-polls told The Daily Star yesterday.

Published: 12:00 am Thursday, June 26, 2014

Last modified: 9:01 pm Thursday, June 26, 2014

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