A strong message for ruling party
Azmat Ullah Khan's defeat to a 62-year-old woman with no political background has dealt the Awami League a major blow, sending a message to the ruling party about rifts in its grassroots.
The surprise win of Zaida Khatun, the mother of suspended Gazipur mayor Zahangir Alam, in Gazipur City Corporation election has caught many AL high-ups off guard because the party exerted all its strength to ensure Azmat's victory.
Several central leaders believe Gazipur city election has demonstrated how internal feuds can lead to defeat even in a city known as the party's citadel. They also think the party should spend some time for self-reflection and learn a lesson from this election before moving forward.
AL's election loss in Gazipur, which along with Faridpur and Kishoreganj is known as an AL bastion, also shows the state of the party's popularity just seven months before the national polls.
The central leaders think the time has come to focus on the organisation itself and to bring discipline within the party through resolving the feuds before the general election.
The AL formed a 28-member committee of central leaders to coordinate the election campaign in Gazipur. But the committee members had not done enough, allege several leaders.
As a political party, the AL is an expert in setting election strategies that work, they say, adding that no other political party can even come close in terms of organising.
But during different elections over the last 14 years, administration officials and law enforcers played a vital role in securing victory for the AL, party insiders say.
That's why the AL leaders took the victory in Gazipur city election for granted and didn't put in much effort.
In October last year, the role of government officials was brought to question by Election Commissioner Anisur Rahman who told a meeting with deputy commissioners and superintendents of police that many officials were not acting impartially while discharging their duties.
Gazipur election result is a fitting answer to AL's overconfidence.
"Gazipur election result is a fitting answer to the party's overconfidence. It assumed an easy victory and failed to keep in mind the people's anti-government and anti-Awami League sentiments," a central leader of the party told The Daily Star, wishing anonymity.
The rifts and feuding groups are present in almost every district committee of the AL, he added.
However, AL General Secretary Obaidul Quader at an event yesterday said Gazipur election was free and fair, and it was a victory of democracy.
That the government can hold a free and fair election has been proven, he told a discussion at the AL office on Bangabandhu Avenue in the capital.
According to insiders, the AL leadership has been so busy running the government since 2009 that the organisation itself ceased to be a priority.
The AL faced a setback in the 2021 union parishad elections, thanks to internal feuds and disgruntled local leaders running as independents.
But no serious steps were taken to unite the party afterwards, the insiders say.
In Gazipur, the first mistake the AL leaders made was to assume that the local administration and police would support the ruling party nominee.
Besides, they didn't take Zahangir and his mother seriously enough. They thought the local activists would not maintain their relations with Zahangir after his permanent expulsion from the AL. They also assumed that the local activists would work together for the AL nominee.
But in reality, many grassroots leaders worked for Zaida Khatun in secret, said the sources.
Many AL leaders from Gazipur say that some of the BNP supporters had voted for Zaida while others voted for her simply because of their anti-government sentiments.
After the ruling AL chose Azmat to run for mayor, Zahangir collected nomination papers for himself and his mother to participate in the election as independents. As the Election Commission scrapped his nomination papers, he started campaigning for his mother Zaida.
In 2013, Zahangir tried to run for mayor but the AL chose Azmat, who ended up losing to BNP's MA Mannan.
Zahangir tried to run as an independent, but quit the race only a few days before that election day. Since the ballot papers could not be changed at the last minute, his electoral symbol remained on them. Eventually, almost 30,000 people voted for him, which according to analysts was a major reason why Azmat lost that election.