Ivy’s hattrick or Taimur’s first?
Narayanganj goes to polls today to pick its mayor and 36 councillors, in an election that can be expected to be a departure from the recent violence-ridden voting for Union Parishad seats.
Outgoing mayor Selina Hayat Ivy is locking horns with Taimur Alam Khandakar, an independent candidate, to run the Narayanganj City Corporation (NCC), the seventh-largest city corporation in Bangladesh.
BNP has boycotted the polls citing that a free and fair election is not possible under the current Election Commission (EC) and the government.
A win for Ivy, who is contesting with the ruling party ticket as in the previous polls, means she remains the only mayor of NCC, which was formed in 2011.
For the veteran politician Taimur, the post of mayor is a long-coveted wish: he pulled out of the race in the maiden election and did not participate in the 2016 polls.
Like in previous elections, the Osman family remains at the centre of discussion due to Shamim Osman's longstanding rivalry with Ivy.
In 2011, Ivy had clinched the post of the mayor by beating the then ruling Awami League-backed candidate Shamim by a margin of more than one lakh votes. A total of 276,329 votes were cast in the maiden NCC polls.
While Shamim has gone on record to extend his support to Ivy, speculations are rife that he and his men might try to influence the polls today.
Tight security measures were put in place by the EC, whose tenure expires on February 16, to ensure a peaceful atmosphere for the polls, being held on partisan lines.
"The election atmosphere is very good," said Mahfuza Akter, the returning officer of the NCC polls, while urging the voters to come to the polling centres following all health guidelines and to cast their votes without fear.
Voting will start at 8 am and will continue until 4 pm without any break.
Ivy's clean image, popularity and the development activities she had carried out during her first term might benefit her in the polls today, said residents of Narayanganj, which houses more than five lakh voters.
Over the past decade, a period that coincided with Ivy's reign as the mayor, the road network in Narayanganj, Bangladesh's industrial hub, has improved noticeably.
But her campaign promise of building a bridge to connect Bandar, which lies on the other side of the Shitalakshya river, with the town centre remains unfulfilled.
On the other hand, Taimur's political career, which spans more than 50 years, and his connection with the city's working-class people might give him an edge along with the anti-government sentiment.
Both the candidates have wrapped up their campaigning on Friday.
Following the electoral code of conduct, Ivy declined to make any comment to the media yesterday.
If free and fair polls are held, Ivy will win the polls by a margin of one lakh votes, said Adinath Basu, her chief election agent.
Taimur, however, spoke with the media on the eve of the polls.
He expressed his firm determination to not leave the election race and urged the local administration not to harass his campaigners for the sake of a free and fair poll.
Taimur, a former top BNP leader, went on to express concern over the returning officer's move to switch off the security cameras installed at some polling stations.
He demanded that the closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras be turned on in the centres today.
Akter, however, said there is no possibility of having functional security cameras inside the polling booths "for the sake of voters' privacy".
"There will be no privacy if the polling booths remain under CCTV coverage. The booths are usually not monitored, but if any booth has a camera installed, it will be switched off," she said.
Contacted, Narayanganj Deputy Commissioner Mostain Billah said there is nothing that can be done over the issue as it was the decision of the EC, which is overseeing the election.
Since it assumed office in February 2017, the EC has been under severe criticism for widespread electoral anomalies in the national and different local government polls.
Besides, not all polling centres have CCTV cameras installed, Billah added.
"We want to give the people of the country a model election in a festive atmosphere," said Zaidul Alam, Narayanganj District's police superintendent.
A three-tier security zone has been established to ensure violence-free polls, he added.
Until last night, the atmosphere in the city, which is about 16 kilometres from Dhaka, was largely peaceful, raising hope of clean polls.
The total votes cast in the 2011 polls was 70 percent. It came down to 62 percent in 2016.