Narayanganj hangs on for ‘festive’ election as campaigning ends ‘peacefully’

The voting on Sunday will be closely watched across Bangladesh in a test for the outgoing Election Commission after the campaign came to a close on Friday without any major incidents.

The EC, widely criticised over its failure to prevent the deadly violence in the ongoing union council elections, hopes the Narayanganj polls will have a “pleasant” ending.

This is for the first time the polls to Narayanganj City Corporation will be held exclusively through electronic voting machines or EVMs.

More than half a million voters are expected to choose their mayor and councillors.

Salina Hayat Ivy, the ruling Awami League candidate, is running for reelection.

Her main rival Taimur Alam Khandaker, a BNP leader, has thrown his hat in the ring as an independent candidate.

Five other candidates are also in the running for mayor. The candidates hit the campaign trail on Dec 28 after the symbols were assigned. 

The two main candidates, Ivy and Taimur, traded allegations of attempts to influence the poll throughout the campaign that ended on Friday midnight.

They sounded confident of winning the popular ballot if the election is held in a free and fair manner.

The 148 councillor candidates also campaigned in a festive mood in the 26 wards until the government reimposed some restrictions to curb rising coronavirus infections.

On the final day of the campaign, Ivy said factions within and outside the ruling party were working in unison to see that she loses the vote, in a veiled reference to AKM Shamim Osman, her rival in the Awami League whom she had defeated in 2011.

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“Some party insiders have united with outsiders in a bid to defeat me. All they want is to create unrest in order to foil the election. But everyone knows that I’ll definitely win,” Ivy said on Friday.

Salina Hayat Ivy, the Awami League candidate who is seeking reelection, attended a street rally. Her main rival Taimur Alam Khandaker, a BNP leader contesting in the election as an independent, hit the campaign trail after Jum’ah prayers. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

Taimur, whom the BNP sacked from its advisory council for defying party orders over his nomination in the Narayanganj city election, has complained of harassment and expressed concerns over the possibility of electoral violence.

He questioned central Awami League leaders’ meeting with the deputy commissioner and superintendent of police of Narayanganj district, and alleged the ruling party brought outsiders in “to create a chaos”.  

But Ivy brushed aside Taimur’s complaints, arguing that any kind of violence during the polls would be counterproductive for her as well.

The authorities took all the measures necessary for a free and fair election, said Ashok Kumar Debnath, additional secretary at the Election Commission.

The entirety of the Narayanganj City Corporation area is awash in campaign posters on Thursday, Jan 13, 2022, ahead of the election. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

The entirety of the Narayanganj City Corporation area is awash in campaign posters on Thursday, Jan 13, 2022, ahead of the election. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

He also said the candidates must file specific complaints, instead of raising allegations during campaigns, if they want the administration to step in. “There’s no fear of violence. No irregularities will be tolerated. All arrangements have been done for a festive voting.”

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The by-election to Tangail-7 parliamentary seat and polls to five municipalities are also scheduled for Sunday.

Ashok mentioned that the authorities transferred the chiefs of two police stations in Tangail and Noakhali to ensure free and fair polls.

Observers have described the Narayanganj polls as “very significant” to the EC. “All’s well that ends well. The end of the Election Commission’s tenure will be a happy one if they can give us a good election,” said Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah, chairman of National Election Observation Council.

With their mandate ending in February, Election Commissioner Rafiqul Islam said all the elections are equally important to them.

“We take all measures required to ensure free and fair polls, yet sporadic incidents do occur. This type of violence cannot be stopped if the candidates and voters do not change their mindsets.”

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