The second phase of upazilla elections starts today. And although it is a tad premature to draw any definitive conclusion from the results of the first phase of UZ elections held on February 19, less than 25% of the total UZs were involved in the first phase, there are nonetheless some very interesting phenomena that one can see in the results of the 97 UZ polls.
It must have surprised many to see the EC announce the UZ election schedule. And one cannot be faulted for discerning motives behind this. Apparently, the plans were devised by the ruling party which was wallowing in the notional victory in the January 5 elections, which they managed to pull off keeping the main opposition out of it. The EC's haste with the upazilla election was quite in contrast to its indifference to the Dhaka Municipal election that has been due for over five years. In fact, quite contrary to the PM's expressed aversion to the idea of non-elected persons holding statutory posts, the now bifurcated Dhaka City Corporations are headed by government nominees. And the idea behind the bifurcation was not entirely due to the government's concern for bettering the quality of public service.
So what was the EC's hurry so soon after an election, the conduct of which did nothing to redeem the image of the EC? Well it was not as much the EC's as it was the AL's. It was not unnatural for the AL to be overcome by complacency after having, what they thought, routed the BNP in the battle of attrition that cost the country dearly. It was, therefore, the right time to deliver the killer blow, the coup de grâce so to say, to write the party off once and for all. BNP was reeling, and the UZ elections were meant to catch them off guard at a time when the party was busy with putting its house in order.
However, one could not help notice an effort to keep the BNP out of the UZ polls too. The very vituperative, impolitic and sometimes uncivil comments, by very senior members of the AL, questioning why the BNP had chosen to participate in the UZ polls when they had boycotted the national elections, betray their intentions. The only conclusion that one can draw from it is that the AL was not quiet sure of the results of the UZ polls and hoped to provoke the BNP enough to boycott the UZ elections too.
The result of the first phase is not surprising. It belies the conclusion of several opinion polls, held soon after January 5, that had the BNP participated in the parliament elections it would have garnered at least five percent fewer votes than AL.
There are many critics of the BNP who fail to see the reason for the party boycotting the national election and feel that they might have carried the day had they chosen to take part. It is very difficult to provide an adequate answer to “what if.” As for me I am reminded of a comment, purportedly by Chou-en-Lai, who, when asked what he thought of the consequences of the French Revolution, replied that it was too early to tell. It may be too early to say what consequences the BNP might have to endure for boycotting the January 5 election.
The ruling party has used the results as a saving grace, made a virtue of it and claimed that free and fair election was possible with the incumbent in office. The BNP, on the other hand, have said that the margin would have been more had the AL cadres not been able to get their way in many polling centers. The Jatiyo Party, having played the most dubious and double role in the parliamentary elections, is a moribund party and thus may not support the idea of an immediate election.
But the joker in the pack was Jamaat. And much as some would like to brush its performance aside, the phenomenon must be analysed seriously. A political party that was on the run literally, having invited the wrath of not only the public but also the law enforcing agencies, its garnering 12% of the seats, cannot be discarded out of hand. And they did not ride on the BNP's back either.
Thus, one wonders whether the AL will get expected dividends from its strategy of holding the UZ election now. Or, on the contrary, it will have provided the scope to BNP and Jamaat to regain lost grounds.
The writer is Editor, OP-Ed and Defence & Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star.