Foreign Policy Blogs

Narayangonj-gate?

The eyes of the nation were glued on the Narayanganj City Corporation elections these past few days. Many wondered why this particular mayoral election of a newly formed city corporation near the capital was of such great significance. The reason for this election’s socio-political significance was it would give everyone an opportunity to see if the ruling Awami League could hold free and fair elections in the absence of non-party caretaker government oversight. The very first Narayangonj City Corporation election was held peacefully and, in the opinion of many, was fair. Two candidates from the ruling party (Awami League) were pitted against each other and the candidate from the main opposition party (BNP) opted out of the race at the very last minute. Of the two Awami League candidates, one was renowned crook Shamim Osman and the other was respected doctor and second generation politician Selina Hayat Ivy.

To the Awami League, proving that it can hold free and fair elections is worth more political capital than winning the mayoral race of a newly formed city corporation. Therefore, having the Awami League’s base split between two candidates makes it easier for the opposition’s candidate (Taimur Alam Khondoker) to win. If the opposition wins, the election is perceived as free and fair by the masses. This will also make people more optimistic about the possibility of a free and fair parliamentary elections without a caretaker government in the future. BNP understood this very well and played the campaign game until the very end, withdrawing their candidate at the last moment and citing the government’s refusal to deploy the army to ensure safety of their campaign workers and candidate. In reality, the police and RAB can easily guarantee their safety. BNP did not want to risk winning the Narayangonj mayoral election, which would give the Awami League the enormous fair election bragging rights that would come with an Awami League loss. The Awami League was aware that this could happen and had therefore pitted two candidates from their party, one evil (Osman) and one good (Ivy) and even went as far as backing the evil candidate, despite him being a bit of a long shot. In the end, Dr. Selina Hayat Ivy won the election by a landslide and her opponent from her own party claimed that the election was unfair before he conceded and thanked the Prime Minister for holding free and fair elections. It was a brilliant strategy, unethical and misleading, but brilliant none the less, in a very Karl Rove kind of way.

Political theatrics is great for entertainment, but is bad for democracy and further corrodes the very little faith we have left in our politicians. We all know that neither BNP nor the Awami League (nor their respective coalition buddies, for that matter) will ever hold free and fair elections in a country where the ruling party has never been re-elected in a fair election. The politicians are too corrupt and have too much money, power and influence to lose to leave it to the will of the people (let’s not forget the prison time they face after each completed term).