The Narayanganj City Corporation (NCC) election is undoubtedly a stellar example of free and fair polls. The way people are lauding the polls in social media and in other forums shows that the peaceful election has raised their expectation for good elections. It has also restored their confidence in the electoral system, which had largely been damaged in the last three years due to the rampant attacks on it.
The entire electoral atmosphere in Narayanganj city was unique in the recent history of our elections.
During electioneering for more than two weeks, mayoral candidates nominated by two archrivals AL and BNP did not engage in the mudslinging that is a common phenomenon in our national politics.
They refrained from spiting venom on each other by attacking each other's character. Their supporters did not attack the opponents' election campaign. Their campaign was focused on various local and national issues.
This atmosphere during the run up to the election contributed to ensure a peaceful polling day. There was not a single untoward incident reported in the polling day—something unprecedented in our election record. This speaks for the necessity of candidates with clean images to make an election good.
The Narayanganj election once again proved that the vital pre-condition of a free, fair and peaceful election is non-interference in the polls by the government and the party in power.
If the party in power refrains from influencing the polls, the law enforcement agencies and officials of the civil administration engaged in the election are able ensure a peaceful atmosphere for fair election.
Nominating candidates by political parties with clean images also matters. Candidates with criminal records and black money holders with their efforts to manipulate the election damage the polling atmosphere which hinders the Election Commission to conduct free and fair elections.
The same EC that was unable to hold free and fair election in the last three years since the January 5, 2014 parliamentary election was able to conduct a peaceful election in Narayanganj because of the other factors for fair election.
This EC was also able to hold free and fair elections in five city corporations - Gazipur, Rajshahi, Khulna, Barisal and Sylhet. It has been possible because of non-interference in the polls by the party in power. BNP supported mayoral candidates won these elections by defeating their opponents backed by AL.
But things have changed in the January 5 parliamentary election and subsequent elections in local government bodies - Upazila Parishads, municipalities, Union Parishads and three city corporations in Dhaka and Chittagong.
Fairness of all those elections was questioned due to undue interference in the polls by ruling party men, making the law enforcement agencies and civil administration unable to play an effective role for fair and peaceful elections.
The Narayanganj election proved again that the EC alone cannot make an election free and fair alone. Free, fair and peaceful election is an outcome of collective efforts by all the players engaged in the polls.
Yet, the need for a strong EC cannot be ignored as the constitutional body gives the leadership. A weak leadership cannot play an effective role. The current EC is an example of it.
The underlying meaning of the messages from the NCC polls is immensely significant.
The win in Narayanganj is a big boost for the ruling Awami League as it won for the first time a competitive mayoral election by defeating its rival BNP. Its leaders are portraying the win as an expression of people's confidence in the government. But according to political analysts, Selina Hayat Ivy's personal popularity for her clean image also contributed largely to her win. The AL leaders should pay heed to this point.
The AL leaders are also claiming that the NCC polls proved that free and fair election is possible under their government. It is true, but for this, they must restrain party men from interfering in the polls. In the last three years, the ruling party men resorted to exert undue influence in almost all elections to ensure victory. Therefore, the party needs to do more to restore people's confidence in their pledges that the EC would be allowed to hold free and fair elections in the future.
The vote bagged by the BNP mayoral candidate also deserves careful analysis. Obtaining around one lakh vote by a fresher still shows BNP's popularity in election politics. His clean image contributed to drum up people's support. The BNP candidate could have bagged more votes had party's local leaders unitedly worked for him. The party leaders should question the fairness of the NCC polls only if they have any substance. Raising allegations for the sake of defending their defeat in the NCC polls will discredit the party further.
The NCC polls stand out as a model election. It shows a path for national politics, which if followed, will supply a fresh breath of air into the confrontational culture in politics, it will guide us on how to hold free and fair elections. Application of the NCC model in future elections will contribute to invigorate democracy in Bangladesh. Narayanganj shows us the way. We need to follow it.
The writer is Special Correspondent, The Daily Star.