BdChronicle special report:
The BNP led 18 party alliance boycotted the January 5 national election and the ruling party happily accepted the ‘victory’. The Awami League leaders, including the party chief Sheikh Hasina, since then have ridiculously claimed, repeatedly, that the election was fair. 44 days after that the BNP and Jamaat decidedly contested in the first phase of the fourth national upazila elections and blew the ruling party out of the water. The BNP and Jamaat backed chairman candidates won in two third of the contested areas.
The upazila election results show, among other things, an interesting resurgence of the popularity of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami. The mainstream media have been relentless in demonizing the Jamaat. The widely accepted perception within the elite class is that the Jamaat is universally hated by the citizens of Bangladesh and no one can possibly support it. This narrative has certainly been challenged by these results. At the same time the BNP has triumphantly returned to the political stage officially after losing its formal opposition status.
The Awami League backed candidates have won in one third of the contested upazilas. In the first phase polls were held in 97 upazilas. The ruling party won in 35 upazilas. The BNP won in 43 and the Jamaat in 13 upazilas. Together the BNP and the Jamaat won in a total of 56 upazilas, which is 21 more than the Awami League. The Jatiya Party, which was the main alliance of the ruling party in joining the controversial national election, won in one upazila. The 13 other parties of the grand alliance led by the Awami League, such as the Workers’ Party and Jatiya Shomajtantrik Dal, did not win anywhere.
In the previous upazila elections held in 2009 Awami League backed candidates won in 66 upazilas among 96 total upazilas in which elections were held. Awami League landed a sweeping victory leaving only 14 wins for the BNP and 8 for the Jamaat.
The results that have emerged from the elections on Wednesday perfectly reversed the results of 2009. Many analyses of these results have been offered. They don’t vary greatly in fact. The emphasis has been given on the lack of organization in Awami League.
Awami League Chief Sheikh Hasina formed 7 committees for 7 Divisions to trump rebel Awami candidates. But the attempt has apparently failed. Moreover, the Awami League lost in many upazilas where it did not have any rebel candidate. The party representatives said that the party was disorganized in those areas. This seems to be the explanation that is put out for the ruling party’s failure.
Awami League leaders have expressed disappointment at the lack of unity in the party. Leaders in the lower tier of the party complained about higher ranked leaders being unhelpful. A secretary of the Awami League anonymously told Prothom Alo that the party won in places where the big leaders stayed out of election/organizing.
But the re-emergence of the Jamaat cannot be explained away simply by saying that Awami League was disorganized. It becomes obvious that Jamaat has won over to its side a huge number of voters, if we are to take the outcome of the election as an indicator. So, for example, the Jamaat candidate in the Koira upazila got 53,782 votes defeating the Awami League backed candidate by more than 19 thousand votes. This is a huge margin in upazaila election.
This is the general picture throughout, which shows that the disorganization and disunity within Awami League was not the only reason for its failure. In Sathia upazila the Jamaat candidate won by a difference of 17 thousand votes. In Jaldhaka upazila the Jamaat backed candidate got 66 thousand votes and the Awami League backed candidate got 46 thousand. In Sherpur the Jamaat candidate won getting a total of 83 thousand votes, whereas the Awami League candidate got 45 thousand. That is a difference of 38 thousand votes.
In the vice chairman category the BNP and Jamaat have also dominated. The BNP won 32 vice chairman posts, the Awami League won 24 and the Jamaat won 23. In the women vice chairman category the BNP won 34 vice chairman posts, the Awami League also got 34 and the Jamaat got 10.
The Awami League supporters have been demanding the banning of Jamaat as political party. The issue will now be seen in a new light as the Jamaat manages to amass hundreds of thousands of votes just in the upazilas they won in. The question is now that can we purport to support democracy and still want to ban a party that can pull such support?
Going back to the reasons behind Awami League’s defeat, the other side of the story is that the ruling party lost because of its terrible human rights record and the brutal and incessant suppression of all forms of dissent, which include shutting down two television channels and one major opposition newspaper.
The constant negative coverage of Jamaat in all media seems to have had little effect on the voting population outside of the Dhaka based educated class. It was also thought that the BNP would not fare well in the election as the supporters have been demoralized by the political turmoil, in which they have always found themselves in the receiving end. Another reason why it was thought that the BNP will not be able to put up a fight was because the root level organizations have been dismantled by the crackdown on the local leaders and activists. But somehow the BNP managed to emerge as victorious.
The leaders of the ruling party now need to consider the possibility that the people may have used the upazila election as an outlet to make their voices heard, which, they must feel, have been ruthlessly stifled by the current regime for the last 5 years.
Source: BD Chornicle