Both the Awami League and the BNP will give their best to win the upcoming Dhaka North City Corporation mayoral by-polls after their election debacle in Rangpur.
The AL suffered a humiliating defeat in the Rangpur City Corporation election as its mayoral candidate Sharfuddin Ahmed Jhantu lost to Jatiya Party candidate Mostafizar Rahman Mostafa by a margin of around one lakh votes.
The ruling party now wants to demonstrate its popularity by winning the DNCC by-election, say AL insiders.
At the party's presidium meeting at the Gono Bhaban on Saturday, Prime Minister and AL President Sheikh Hasina directed her party's top leaders to make “all-out efforts” to win the DNCC by-polls, a presidium member, who attended the meeting, told this newspaper yesterday.
Hasina said the party will be cautious in giving nomination for the mayoral post of the DNCC. It would field an acceptable candidate after consultation among its top leaders.
Several names of prospective mayoral candidates came up at the meeting, but the name of Atiqul Islam, former president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, figured prominently, said meeting sources.
"Though the party president seemed positive about Atiqul, considering his capabilities, she was yet to make a final decision in this regard," added one source.
The names of several party leaders and pro-AL businesspersons were also discussed as prospective mayoral candidates. They include ex-president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) AK Azad, former AL lawmaker and businessman HBM Iqbal, and AL lawmaker Rahmat Ullah.
The mayoral post fell vacant following the death of DNCC Mayor Annisul Huq on November 30. The by-election is likely to be held in late February next year, and the EC is expected to announce the polls schedule in mid-January.
Talking to this newspaper, a number of BNP leaders said the party is likely to nominate party leader Tabith Awal, son of BNP Vice Chairman and ex-FBCCI president Abdul Awal Mintoo, as mayoral candidate.
Backed by the BNP, Tabith contested the 2015 DNCC polls, but boycotted it halfway on the voting day, bringing allegations of widespread rigging.
Seeking anonymity, a senior leader of the party said Tabith would get the party ticket for the upcoming by-election, and that he had met BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia at her office a few days ago.
Several party leaders said the Rangpur election result is an indication that the ruling party will face debacle in every election if it is held in a free and fair manner.
The BNP now wants to win the DNCC by-polls to show that the government's popularity has declined.
About the party's preparations for the by-polls, another senior BNP leader said, “We will devise our strategy once the Election Commission announces the polls schedule. We will surely win the election if it is held in a free and fair manner.”
At the AL presidium meeting, Hasina asked party General Secretary Obaidul Quader to find out the reasons behind Jhantu's defeat, meeting sources said.
"It can happen... You may face defeat in an election. But what happened in the Rangpur City Corporation polls is not merely a defeat, it is a debacle. You should look into the reasons behind this," an AL presidium member quoted Hasina as saying.
The free and fair Rangpur City Corporation polls under the new EC has brightened the AL's image but the huge margin of defeat has created concern among the party's policymakers, especially ahead of the national election, the presidium member said quoting the AL president.
Expressing frustration over the polls result, the AL chief asked the party's top leaders not to be overconfident in any election.
"You should not be too confident in any election. If you do so, the party may face such defeats in the future as well," said the presidium member quoting Hasina.
She advised them to tour the entire country to publicise the government's development activities to woo voters ahead of the national election.
Hasina also thanked the EC for holding a free, fair and credible election in Rangpur as the BNP had cast doubts on the polls.
In Thursday's polls, Jhantu, who was elected mayor in the maiden Rangpur City Corporation polls with the AL's support in 2012, got 62,400 votes while his rival Jatiya Party candidate Mostafizar Rahman Mostafa bagged 1,60,489 votes.
In the previous election, Jhantu defeated Mostafa by 30,000 votes, bagging 106,255 votes.
From the BNP's perspective, Rangpur is not a party stronghold, and it didn't expect its candidate to win the mayoral race.
BNP Standing Committee Member Moudud Ahmed said, “We didn't hope to win the Rangpur City Corporation election. Our candidate secured the third place as in the previous polls. In this election, the number of votes of the Awami League candidate decreased significantly while that of our candidate increased.”
BNP mayoral candidate Kawsar Zaman Babla bagged 35,136 votes in the just-concluded polls against 21,235 votes in the 2012 polls.