Don't mar the mayoral elections
ONE'S first reac-tion to the announcement of the three mayoral elections was to ascribe all sorts of motives on the part of the government, and motives there may still be on its part. And in spite of the demand of the opposition supported candidates for a level playing field, the deportment and conduct of the candidates gave on the hope that we may perhaps be looking at the beginning of a new, refined and better character of the country's politics.
Arguably, a mayoral election is not the national election, but I would like to believe that the capital and other metropolitan cities are but the index of the mind of the rest of the country. And no matter who won, both the major parties could consider the dénouement a win-win outcome for all in several ways. However, the contemptible attacks on the campaign motorcade of the BNP chairperson have put cold water on our hopes of a good electioneering and a peaceful April 28.
The mayoral elections, particularly the two Dhaka City Corporations' (DCC) come after nearly a decade and a half of the Corporation going without elected head/representatives. But better late than never. And in spite of that, the election is a very welcome thing that has been thirteen years too late in coming. That notwithstanding, many ascribe motives to the decision of the government to hold the elections now as they do to its decision to bifurcate the DCC in the first place. Many see the government as being too clever by half and may well rue the decision. But all of us are rooting for a good election, ceteris paribus, all things being equal.
As for me, I feel that the AL has taken a politically strategic move that nonetheless entails risks, and one would think the party has factored that in. The timing was favourable too. It was meant to take the winds out of the BNP's sail and run it to the ground even more, having floundered with its so-called agitation to force the government to go for a general election. The mayoral elections have steered the BNP's attention away from its immediate demand for a national election, exactly as the AL had hoped it would. But what the AL was further hoping, and which did not eventuate, was that BNP would reject the mayoral election and stick to its demand for a national election and thereby be proven, as a party, not committed to electoral politics. But that was perhaps a calculated risk which the AL thought was worth taking. And that some see as a lifeline for the BNP.
The BNP has very judiciously taken the opportunity offered by the AL, perhaps unwittingly, to seek exit from a faulty political strategy that has not given it any political mileage.
As for the election, the announcement had brought a great sense of relief and provided respite from the destructive BNP politics, that was matched by the state's misuse of its forces demonstrated in the number of killed in crossfire and enforced disappearances, till the attacks on Khaleda Zia's election motorcade on Monday and Tuesday.
The acts of vandalism, explained away in the most ludicrous manner by some AL leaders, cause us concern lest the elections are marred by violence. One felt that the deportment of all the candidates, their civilised tone when referring to their rivals, and a generally unbelievable camaraderie, is new in our politics and which our political leaders will do well to take lessons from and apply in their own conduct.
I feel that whatever may be the outcome of the elections it will have many positives for both the AL and the BNP provided all things are equal, and the opposition is not physically and otherwise prevented from conducting its campaign.
For the AL a win of all the three mayoral seats and majority of the commissioners will further strengthen its position. If there is a reversal it can always say that the results demonstrate that free and fair elections can be held under an incumbent government. As for the BNP, given its three months of fruitless agitation, it will be happy to get out of the rut through the election, whatever the results may be. But any attempt by the AL to influence the election directly through use of the state apparatus will be the germination of another BNP agitation programme.
The question is: will all things be equal? Not if the majority of the BNP councilor candidates are on the run to evade arrest. Not if the opposition electioneering is prevented by force as was done recently (in this regard to say that it was stage managed by the BNP is just like the BNP saying that the 21 August attack was organised by the AL). Not if the EC chooses discretion as the better part of valour, or chooses to warn Khaleda Zia not to hold meetings in areas that block traffic while ignoring the others who have been doing exactly that. Not if the police is employed to evaluate the prospect of success of the AL candidates vying for commissioners' posts in the corporations… the list is long.
The announcement of the mayoral election brought respite to the nation. Nothing should be done that reverts to the situation ante.
The writer is Editor, Oped and Defence & Strategic Affairs, The Daily Star.