Who will be AL’s main challengers in the city polls?
Amid the rising mercury that has brought hardship to many across the country, the heat has been slowly and surely rising in our political sphere as well, with the potential to bring about a different kind of turmoil. In this context, the upcoming elections to five city corporations, scheduled to be held between May 23 and June 29, will act as catalysts for the political heatwave. And political commentators believe that this wave may continue all the way to the parliamentary elections, which are slated to be held between December this year and January next year.
Although a month away from the city elections, the ruling Awami League has already nominated its candidates, two of whom are new faces while two others are experienced and tested leaders. The exception is Azmat Ullah Khan, who ran in the 2013 elections but lost, and was not given the party ticket in the 2018 city polls.
Judging by the nominations, the Awami League is telling its leaders and activists that those who were expelled from the party can return, but there is no guarantee of getting the party ticket. It is also sending out the message that if its leaders can demonstrate that they are still popular among the electorate, then party blessings will follow in the form of a nomination. But perhaps most importantly, those who tarnish the image of the party with controversial activities will not win the nomination, no matter who they are.
Analysts agree that the upcoming general elections are crucial for the ruling party as, this time, it might not be a repeat of 2014, when the BNP boycotted the polls and the ruling party contenders were elected uncontested in 153 constituencies, or of 2018, when the BNP joined the polls but ballot-stuffing allegedly took place the night before. The party may face a huge challenge from the opposition parties, although the BNP still maintains that it won't participate in the polls under the Awami League government.
It would be risky for the ruling party to bank on controversial leaders to form the next parliament. Thus, it is perhaps through this round of nominations that it is conveying to the aspirants that this policy is likely to remain for the general elections too. That means we might see a good number of new faces in the general elections as MP contenders with Awami League tickets.
As the BNP and its like-minded political parties are likely to boycott the city polls as part of their ongoing campaign demanding elections under a non-partisan interim government, who will be the main contender against the ruling party?
The upcoming city elections are likely to be less challenging compared to those of 2013 and 2018. In 2013, the BNP-backed contenders won all five city polls, but in 2018, except in Sylhet, the BNP-nominated candidates lost. In 2018, there were allegations of vote-rigging and forced occupation of polling centres. But this year, as the BNP will not nominate any candidates, the election will be predictably less competitive.
As the BNP and its like-minded political parties are likely to boycott the city polls as part of their ongoing campaign demanding elections under a non-partisan interim government, who will be the main contender against the ruling party? Though it is not confirmed yet, it is assumed that the main opposition in parliament, Jatiya Party, and the right-wing Islami Andolan Bangladesh may participate in the city polls. Jatiya Party is yet to finalise its candidates, and it is still uncertain whether it will file nominations for all five city corporations. According to media reports, Jatiya Party leaders said their top leadership was not interested in city corporation elections for various reasons: first, the party does not have a winning mayoral candidate; and second, there is a lack of confidence about the fairness of elections. However, they are contemplating participating in the polls to show their presence.
On the other hand, Islami Andolan will file its nominations for all five city corporations. The party has been contesting all the local government elections and have gotten some good results: in Rangpur city polls, the party's candidate managed to bag the second place with around 50,000 votes.
If any BNP leader contests the elections violating their party position, the current state of complacency within the ruling party will be severely disrupted. And if any ruling party candidate contests as an independent candidate, the situation may become all the more interesting.
But the question still remains: who will be the main challengers against the ruling party candidates in the city polls? We have to wait a few more days to find out. As the nation waits for a heavy downpour to cool down, it seems politically things are about to heat up.
Mohammad Al-Masum Molla is chief reporter at The Daily Star.