Now battle for 3 more cities
The Election Commission yesterday announced mayoral polls in Rajshahi, Barisal, and Sylhet city corporations on July 30, creating the ground for another round of battle of ballots in the runup to the parliamentary elections likely in December.
The city polls appear as popularity tests for arch rivals the Awami League and the BNP. It is also a credibility test for the EC.
The mayoral polls kicked off with the Khulna City Corporation elections on May 15 in which the AL defeated the BNP. However, the elections was marred by heavy showdown of muscle by the AL men in and around polling stations, stuffing of ballot boxes, and driving out polling agents of rival parties.
The next is the Gazipur city polls on June 30 where the AL is likely to use the strategy of keeping its leaders united behind one candidate that served it well in Khulna. The BNP is planning a new strategy for Gazipur in which they plan to guard polling stations the night before voting day.
Outcome of Gazipur would have a huge impact on the three city polls on July 30.
Both the camps had started preparing for the polls to Rajshahi, Barisal, and Sylhet city corporations much earlier than usual.
The AL has already finalised mayor candidates for Rajshahi and Sylhet -- Rajshahi city AL president and former mayor AHM Khairuzzaman Liton and Sylhet city AL president and former mayor Badar Uddin Ahmed Kamran.
The BNP is yet to finalise candidates for any of the three cities. However, sources said it wants to keep the incumbent mayors of Rajshahi and Sylhet -- Mosaddek Hossain Bulbul and Ariful Haque Chowdhury -- but could opt for someone in Barisal other than incumbent mayor Ahsan Habib Kamal.
Khandakar Mosharraf Hossain, BNP standing committee member, told The Daily Star, "Usually we participate in all the local government elections. We are participating in Gazipur city corporation elections even after massive vote rigging in Khulna. We will decide about the three city corporations seeing the situation in Gazipur and analysing it."
Five years ago, the polls to these five cities were also crucial for the AL and the BNP as they were just ahead of the national elections of 2014. The BNP had a clean sweep in the city polls considered largely free and fair and the then EC's role was lauded.
The BNP alliance boycotted the January 2014 general elections demanding polls under a non-partisan interim government. As a result, 154 lawmakers were elected unopposed.
This time around, the BNP is determined to join the polls and wants victories in the city polls to boost morale of its leaders and activists.
The BNP leaders think if AL men win the city polls through irregularities, it would help them expose "the government's intention with the national polls".
According to AL leaders, the party believes that if they could keep the party leaders united, their candidates could win in the city polls. Talukder Abdul Khaleque's victory in Khulna is working as "tonic" for the party, they said.
AL Joint General Secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif told The Daily Star that Khulna city election result proved that voters are always in favour of development and against of destructive politics and corruption.
"If we can follow the strategy of Khulna and keep the party united, then Khulna result will be replicated in Gazipur, Rajshahi, Sylhet, and Barisal," he added.
The BNP will keep a close eye on the polling stations in Gazipur the night before the voting day and try to assemble party men outside to guard the centres during polling as part of its new strategy. It fears that the AL might use the same "tactic of intimidation to win the polls in Gazipur, which they had used in Khulna", a party leader said.
The party is also trying to boost the morale of its men so that they do not give into intimidation and leave polling stations, party insiders said.
CONCERN IN BARISAL
In Barisal, district AL President Abul Hasnat Abdullah dominates.
However, followers of former city mayor late Shawkat Hossain Hiron, patronised by Industries Minister Amir Hossain Amu, are against Hasnat.
Hasnat's opposition in Barisal AL is however not so strong.
Last year, city AL leaders at a meeting demanded party backing for joint general secretary, Sadik Abdullah, son of Hasnat, in the mayoral polls.
Zahid Faruk Shamim, an AL adherent, also wants party ticket.
Golam Abbas Chowdhury Dulal, Barisal city AL president, said, "We preliminarily selected Sadik Abdullah as our mayor candidate. But the final decision will be made by AL President Sheikh Hasina and we will all work for the nominated candidate."
But the case is different for the BNP in Barisal. City BNP President Mujibur Rahman Sarwar is unparallel leader there.
In 2013, the BNP backed Ahsan Habib Kamal. But this time, he might not get the party blessing as a gap has developed between him and the party leaders and activists.
Some party insiders said Sarwar still could get the party ticket.
BNP's Barisal divisional organising secretary Bilkis Jahan Shirin also wants the party blessing.
There is no visible intra-party feud in the AL and the BNP in Rajshahi.
BNP leader Mizanur Rahman Minu was the first elected mayor of Rajshahi city in 1994 and in 2002 he was elected for the second consecutive time.
But the situation changed in 2008 as AL-backed AHM Khairuzzaman Liton was elected mayor defeating the BNP-blessed candidate. In 2013, BNP retook the city with Mosaddek Hossain Bulbul.
Sylhet City Corporation was formed in 2001 and AL leader Badar Uddin Ahmed Kamran became the first elected mayor of the city. He got re-elected in 2008.
But in 2013, he lost to BNP-backed Ariful Haque Chowdhury.