Read the writing on the wall
WHAT should we make of the results of the just completed elections under the four city corporations? Can we look at the result as the outcome of the anti-incumbency factor, since all the winners are opposition BNP supported mayoral candidates?
Given the history of the major city corporation elections in the last three years, the AL should not have been surprised, far less shocked, at the latest results of the recent city corporation polls.
Only one year and a half after the general election of December 2008, the ruling AL tasted their first defeat in June 2010's Chittagong city corporation polls when opposition BNP-supported mayoral hopeful M Manzur Alam trounced the port city's seemingly invincible mayor ABM Mohiuddin Chowdhury by a large margin of votes. Perhaps, the AL then solaced itself with the thought that the polls result was more a fallout of the crack in AL's camp in Chittagong than any success of the opposition BNP. That is because, earlier, Manzur had parted company with his former ally Mohiuddin. And still intoxicated with the last general election's historic victory, AL might have dismissed the outcome of Chittagong mayoral polls as an inconsequential event of local nature with little impact on national politics.
It remained nonchalant even after the October 2011's victory of Dr. Salina Hayat Ivy, who defeated AL-backed candidate Shamim Osman in the Narayanganj City Corporation polls. Again, the ruling AL might have deluded itself into thinking that though a rebel, Ivy was, after all, a bona fide Awami Leaguer by birth. But it failed to accept the fact that the voters had actually voiced their 'no confidence' in the ruling party by rejecting its chosen mayoral candidate.
The ruling AL seemed still unperturbed after the victory of BNP-backed Monirul Haque Sakku by defeating Afzal Khan in the Comilla City Corporation elections as late as January 2012.
Now the upsetting results with the 10th Jatiya Sangsad elections only five to six months away. Has Awami League taken this result with the same old insouciance? Or that it has finally been able to come to terms with the reality!
Hopefully, this last electoral event will have left the AL leaders rethinking their long pursued political strategy and effect changes in it to accommodate the ground realities.
Even though these polls are essentially party-less, of local nature and do not change a government, yet the way the major political parties field their candidates to contest these elections belie their non-political nature. And the latest city corporation polls unmistakably show that national politics, rather than local issues, dictated the voters' choice of the candidates.
The government must not have failed to note that all the four sitting pro-AL mayors of Barisal, Khulna, Rajshahi and Sylhet have been defeated by the self-same pro-BNP candidates (except in Sylhet where BNP changed the previous candidate by a new one), who had lost to these same pro-AL mayoral rivals in 2008's city corporation polls. It looks like a poetic justice. But has AL taken any lesson from this result?
They should know what message this result will convey to the voters across the country. They should now take stock of the damage already done.
Had its candidates been able to retain at least two of the mayoral seats, the AL could save its face. However much the AL leaders may now try to put on a brave face, it cannot hide their frustrations. And it will not be the same AL now as it used to be before the devastating results in the four city corporation elections.
On the other hand, despite its recent debacles in its movement strategies against the government, the opposition BNP along with its alliance partners will begin to feel more assured and confident about themselves.
The windfall success will act as a huge morale booster for the BNP leaders and activists. They will now become more ambitious and find a stronger ground for launching a tougher movement with its demand for a non-partisan, neutral caretaker government.
How will the ruling party face this emboldened opposition? By repeating the same old cliché that since the city corporation polls have been conducted in a free and fair manner, the national election conducted by it would also be equally free, fair and credible?
Ruling AL, along with its alliance partners, must see into its failures in the recent and past local government polls. Clearly, it was the anti-incumbency factor. And it is not rocket science to understand why anti-incumbency factored into the voters' mind. It cannot anymore afford to be lost in its unlimited hubris, but begin to read the writing on the wall.
The writer is Editor, Science & Life, The Daily Star.
E-mail: [email protected]