Amid a boycott by the BNP-led opposition alliance, the ruling Awami League will face its allies in many constituencies in the January 5 polls, reducing the already one-sided election to a complete sham.
In Dinajpur, the Workers Party candidates are the only opponents of the AL contenders for five of the six parliamentary seats.
Fielding five candidates in the district seems a big achievement for the party, led by Rashed Khan Menon, a minister in Sheikh Hasina's election-time government.
The left-leaning party nominated only two candidates there in 1991 polls, one each in 1996 and 2001. They together bagged 1,580 votes in the three elections. Their security deposits were forfeited, according to the Election Commission reports.
In the 2008 polls, no constituency in Dinajpur had a candidate from the WP as it teamed up with the AL. In this district, the battle of ballot usually remains limited to the AL and its archrival BNP.
So, in the absence of the BNP, the outcome of the January 5 race in Dinajpur has become crystal clear. An AL candidate has already been declared elected unopposed in one of the six constituencies.
But the easy fight does not necessarily mean an easy job for the Election Commission. It has to complete all necessary preparations, including printing of ballot papers, according to the EC officials.
Around 11,000 polling officials, including presiding officers, have already been recruited for conducting polls in the 672 centres of the five constituencies. At least 18 security personnel, including armed police, will be deployed at each of the polling stations. The army will also work alongside law enforcement agencies.
The EC will have to pay the polling personnel and law enforcers from the public exchequer. The officials said they prepared a budget of Tk 500 crore to conduct the January 5 polls across the country.
However, the entire budget will not be spent as they are conducting election to 146 of 300 seats. No voting will be needed in the other 154 constituencies where not a single candidate has got any challenger.
The story does not end in Dinajpur.
With the party's electoral symbol “hammer”, the Workers Party candidates are the main opponents of the AL in seven more constituencies elsewhere. All of them are its grassroots leaders.
WP chief Rashed Khan Menon and Politburo Member Fazle Hossain Badsha have been elected unopposed, while two others are contesting with AL's electoral symbol “boat” and are expected to win.
Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, Badsha said they fielded around 30 candidates keeping in mind the negotiation with the AL on seat sharing.
"Initially, we did not know how many seats we might get as an alliance partner. But when the BNP announced a boycott, we decided to let our all candidates contest the polls," he said.
"Through this election, we will be able to judge our strength," he said, adding, "We hope some of our candidates will perform well."
Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, another AL ally, has 10 candidates running against the AL contenders with the party's electoral symbol “flaming torch”. But its two senior leaders are contesting the polls with the AL's electoral symbol and are expected to win. Two other senior leaders have already been elected unopposed with AL support.
The previous election results show the JSD candidates have little ability to put up a good show in polls. In 2001, none of the 76 JSD candidates was able to win and they together bagged 1.19 lakh votes.
Its chief Hasanul Haq Inu and two other party leaders were elected MPs in the 2008 polls with AL support. Inu is now a minister in the election-time government.
Shah Jikrul Ahmed, a JSD policymaker, said some of his party leaders are contesting with the electoral symbol “flaming torch” as those seats were kept opened for all to contest.
He also echoed Badsha's view that the January 5 polls will be an occasion to gauge the party's strength.
Anwar Hossain Manju-led Jatiya Party candidates are pitted against AL candidates in more than 20 constituencies alongside some others. Their past polls performance indicate it would be an easy ride for the AL candidates in those seats.
Manju is now an adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina with the status of a minister. Backed by the AL, he has already been elected unopposed from a constituency.
His party was born before the 2001 parliamentary polls after breaking away from the Ershad-led JP. In the 2001 parliamentary polls, it fielded 140 candidates and got no seat bagging 2.43 lakh votes. In the last parliamentary polls on December 29, 2008, its seven candidates together secured only 7,818 votes. The question of its winning any constituency simply does not arise.
Then there is the Ershad-led Jatiya Party.
In some constituencies, a close contest was possible between the JP and the AL. But in 21 such constituencies, they have been elected unopposed with the support of the AL. Following Ershad's announcement to quit the race, the AL withdrew candidates from another 20 seats to keep JP in the election.
For more than two dozen seats, there are JP-nominated candidates to fight the AL contenders with little electoral base there.
More than four dozen independent candidates are also fighting the AL contenders in this lopsided battle of ballots. But a few of them enjoy some popularity in their constituencies.
So, the AL candidates are set to have an easy win in almost 112 constituencies out of 146 seats in the January 5 voting. The AL has already secured victory in 127 of the 154 seats, according to the Election Commission.
So, in what is widely seen as an “election of compromise,” the ruling AL looks all set to win two-thirds majority as it needs only 73 more seats for this.
There are only two candidates each for 74 seats and 386 for 146. The number of contesting political parties is 12.