Enthusiastic mayoral aspirants in the just-announced by-election to Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) to be held on 26 February have informally started electioneering.
However, the opposition parties doubt if the election will ultimately be held while the ruling camp is not in any comfortable position about this election ahead of all-important general elections scheduled for later this year, according to leaders on both sides of the political divide.
Smaller parties are also taking preparations for joining the polls although they have acknowledged informally that the contest will be limited to candidates to be fielded by the AL and the BNP.
The Awami League leaders think, the timing for the DNCC by-poll is not very suitable for the party, especially after the humiliating defeat in Rangpur City Corporation election. The AL's mayoral candidate Sharfuddin Ahmed Jhantu lost to Jatiya Party's Mostafizar Rahman Mostafa by a margin of around 100,000 votes.
The AL does not afford to lose another election after the Rangpur debacle, party leaders say.
Potential opposition candidates are suspicious whether the election will be held in a free and fair manner, a few contenders say.
The election commission on Tuesday announced the schedule for the mayoral by-election to the DNCC, fixing 26 February for balloting. The position fell vacant with the death of incumbent Annisul Huq on 30 November 2017.
The commission will also hold election to 36 councillor posts and 12 reserved seats in 36 new wards - 18 of the DNCC and 18 of the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) - the same day.
Any major party is yet to formally introduce its nominee in front of the city dwellers although the AL and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have almost finalised their names.
The AL unofficially sent a green signal to Atiqul Islam, former president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, who started contacting the people speaking about vote and development.
The BNP is expected to choose businessman-cum-BNP leader Abdul Awal Mintoo's son Tabith Awal, who ran against AL contender Annisul in the 2015 elections.
Tabith Awal has already been asked to begin electioneering by party chairperson Khaleda Zia, party leaders said.
Other political parties such as Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB), Gano Sanghati Andolon, Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, and Islami Andolan Bangladesh are about to announce their candidates for the DNCC polls.
Announcing the poll schedule, chief election commissioner (CEC) KM Nurul Huda said DNCC by-election is a challenge for them.
Hours later, BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir asked the authorities to deploy troops a week before the balloting day.
Earlier in 2012, the AL allegedly deferred the Dhaka city corporation election by creating legal complications as its leaders thought time was not 'suitable' for them.
Three years later, the ruling party leaders went for the polls, apparently to divert attention from an indefinite siege programme launched by BNP chief Khaleda Zia and splitting the Dhaka City Corporation into DSCC and DNCC. Sayeed Khokon and Annisul Huq won as AL candidates amid allegations massive rigging.
This time around, AL president, prime minister Sheikh Hasina has directed all her party leaders to employ all-out efforts for the DNCC polls.
The tenure of city councillor or mayor is five years. But, the ones to be elected through by-election would get only two and a half years, according to the EC.
Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujon or Citizen for Good Governance) secretary Badiul Alam Majumder told Prothom Alo that anyone can go to the court and ask why he/she would not be elected councillor or mayor for five years.
Now, it is the duty of the government to clarify the matter, he added.
Asked about the legal complications, AL presidium member Faruk Khan said, ''We have no headache over this. This should be seen by the EC.''
According to AL insiders, the candidates were earlier selected on the basis of survey results by different organisations. But in case of DNCC elections, the AL has unofficially announced the name of former BGMEA president Atiqul Islam as the mayoral candidate.
The leaders, however, are not sure if he was chosen the way late Annisul Huq was picked or on the basis of any survey result.
Atiqul, a successful businessman, is not well known in the political arena and has to depend on the ruling party strength, sources in the party said.
Aspirants from various professions lobbied for securing AL ticket and many used posters to greet the city people.
But premier Hasina gave a green signal to Atiqul Islam when he met her in December. At a party meeting at Ganabhaban, the AL chief hinted at nominating Atiqul.
An AL central leader told Prothom Alo that the party was yet to overcome the hangover of defeat in the RCC elections. "It will be hard to make up for any loss the party candidate may suffer to the BNP candidate in Dhaka," the leader said on condition of anonymity.
The ruling party is yet to make up its mind if it will join DNCC polls fielding a single candidate of the 14-party alliance.
Leaders of alliance partners said they would take decisions once the AL finalises its plan.
AL presidium member Faruk Khan, who is a member of local government nomination board, told Prothom Alo that the nomination board would sit soon to pick the candidate.
About apprehensions over fair polls, the AL leader said, "The BNP and the Jamaat foil elections. Many questions are raised when they boycott elections. As these two parties did not boycott elections in Narayanganj, Comilla and Rangpur, questions were also not raised in those elections."
Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, which did not field any candidate in the last mayoral election, has this time nominated its Dhaka metropolitan north unit president Selim Uddin as the mayoral candidate.
As he started talking about his candidature at different indoor programmes, the matter came up for discussion at the meeting of the 20-party alliance with BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia on Monday.
However, a highly placed source of Jamaat said they are not giving focus on the candidature of mayoral elections.
Although Jatiya Party (HM Ershad) won the mayoral post in Rangpur, the party is not serious about the DNCC elections.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, party secretary general ABM Ruhul Amin Hawlader said, "The decision is not taken yet. Scrutiny for nomination is going on."
It is not clear if new political alliance 'Jukta Front' will give any candidate or not. Joint secretary Mahi B Chowdhury of Bikalpadhara Bangladesh, a key component of the alliance, was the candidate in the last election.
Convener of another partner of the alliance, Nagorik Oikya, Mahamudur Rahman Manna said his party is thinking about giving a candidate.
He, however, said there are fears whether elections would be held at all and if voting, in case the election is held, would be fair.
According to Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) and Ganasanghati Andolan, they are discussing whether the left-leaning parties can give a single candidate.
Chief coordinator of Ganasanghati Andolan Zonayed Saki became a candidate in the last elections. He would be the candidate this time as well. He has started exchanging views with stakeholders. As Ganasanghati Andolan is not a registered political party, he is to join elections as an independent candidate.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, Zonayed Saki said the government and the election commission should remove all legal obstacles. The city people want to see the elected representative for running DNCC.
Abdullah Al Kafi alias Kafi Roton was the candidate of Communist Party of Bangladesh during the last elections. He wants to be the candidate again. According to the CPB, the nomination of the candidate may be finalised at the presidium meeting scheduled to be held Wednesday.
Kafi Roton said he would join the election and he hoped the election would be fair this time.
Islami Andolan Bangladesh of Charmonai Pir has nominated Sheikh Fazley Bari Masud for contesting the mayoral election. Masud, president of Dhaka Metropolitan North, was a candidate last time.
AL's possible candidate Atiqul Islam paid tribute to late Annisul Huq, and said, "I want to begin my work where former Annisul Huq left (to complete his unfinished tasks)."
Tabith Awal of the BNP said, "We saw vote rigging in the last election. We do not want to see repetition of it under the present election commission. We hope the commission will hold a fair election in Dhaka ahead of the national elections to earn the trust of the people."
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam and Imam Hossain.