Fear of further divisions at Awami League grassroots

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The ruling Awami League is not giving any party nomination in the upcoming upazila parishad election in order to curb internal conflict within the party. However, this strategy may lead to further divisions at grassroots as many of the ministers and MPs have shouldered the responsibility of nominating candidates for the upazila elections. The tendency is higher in the districts where the party president or general secretaries are MPs.

Prothom Alo has spoken to 10 local Awami League leaders in seven districts of the country, including Chattogram, Cumilla and Madaripur. They said the conflicts and divisions within the party are rising over the candidacy in the upazila elections.

The ruling party undertook a strategy of allowing its leaders to run for the polls independently apart from the party candidates to make the recently concluded 12th parliamentary elections competitive. However, it led to rifts within the party at the grassroots. In many places, an anti-group of the MPs has emerged.

To curb the conflicts within the party, the Awami League has decided to not give party nominations in local government elections, including the upazila elections. But there have been discussions within the party now as to how effective this decision will be.

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Several leaders at the policymaking level have expressed concern that this decision will further increase the conflict within the party, especially when the local MPs are taking the role of the nomination board in the local government polls.

The upazila parishad elections will be held in four phases in May. Already the political leaders, who are aspiring to be candidates in the polls, started electioneering. Most of them are local leaders of the ruling Awami League. There are conflicts in many places at grassroots over the candidacy of upazila parishad elections.  A car convoy of the likely independent candidate from the Awami League came under attack in Barura upazila of Cumilla Wednesday.

The election to the Cumilla City Corporation (CCC) will be held on 9 March while the election to the Mymensingh City Corporation (MCC) and a few other municipalities will also be held on the same day.

In Cumilla, the Awami League held an extended meeting and declared Tahseen Bahar as the lone candidate from the party. He is the organising secretary of Cumilla City Awami League. His father Bahauddin Bahar is the president of the Cumilla city unit of the ruling party and the MP of the area. Most of the members of Cumilla city Awami League are known to be very close to Bahauddin.

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However, there is another faction led by Cumilla city Awami League vice-president Anjum Sultana. City Awami League’s advisor Nur Ur Rahman has also become a candidate for the post of upazila chairman. However, it is Tahseen Bahar who is getting support from the party the most due to the influence of his father in local politics.

Speaking regarding the strategy to keep the candidature open in the local government elections, Awami League general secretary and bridges minister told the newspersons the political office of the party president in the capitals Dhanmondi on Tuesday said the candidates from other parties, including the BNP may join the local government elections.  In that case, if the grassroots think that nominating a lone candidate will help get the victory, they can do that. But it must be kept in mind that none shall win the polls uncontested.

Candidates lobbying with the local MPs

Local government elections with party symbols started after the legislation of the relevant laws. However, the party has opened the candidacy this time instead of nominating party candidates.

According to the sources in the Awami League, the likely candidates started lobbying with the local MPs and top Awami League leaders at the district and upazila level. It can be said that the local MPs have taken up the role of the nomination board.

The upazila elections in Dinajpur are likely to be held in the fourth phase in May. However, local Awami League MP and district Awami League president Mostafizur Rahman has already finalised the candidates for the posts of upazila chairman, vice-chairman and female vice-chairman. The decision was finalised in a meeting led by the local MPs on Saturday.

The central leadership of the ruling party has also learned that local MPs in several districts, including Barishal, Khulna, Bagerhat and Feni, are trying to nominate single candidates for the upazila elections.

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The impact of ‘independent candidate’ strategy

The decision to open up candidature has led to conflicts between the party nominated candidates and the independent candidates. There are indications that, both the winners and defeated candidates of the national polls are trying to field candidates of their choices in the upazila polls.

During the national polls, the Awami League nominated 268 persons as party candidates and the number of independent candidates from the party was 269. Of them, 58 independent candidates won the polls.

It has been learnt that, AMM Minhazur Rahman, chief election coordinator of independent candidates in the national polls from the Chattogram-15 constituency (Satkania upazila) Abdul Motalib, is taking preparations to contest the upazila elections for the post of upazila chairman.

Satkania Upazila Awami League general secretary Kutub Uddin, who worked for defeated Awami League candidate Abu Reza Muhammad Nezamuddin, is also taking preparations to fight for the upazila chairman post.

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Similarly, there is an impact of the national elections on the upazila parishad elections in Bashkhali and Patiya upazila as well. Former Banshkhali union parishad chairman Mojammel Haque Sikder supported independent candidate Mujibur Rahman during the national polls. He has decided to run for the upazila polls. Khorshed Alam, who supported former Awami League MP Mostafizur Rahman during the national polls, is also preparing to take part in the upazila elections.

Acting Patiya upazila chairman Timir Baran Chowdhury worked for party nominated candidate Motaherul Islam in the national polls. Timir Baran is now preparing to contest for the post of upazila chairman with the backing of Motaherul Islam.

Incumbent women vice-chairman Mazeda Begum, who supported independent candidate Shamsul Haque in the national polls, also wants to be a chairman candidate in the upazila parishad polls.

Speaking to Prothom Alo on condition of anonymity, an independent candidate said, “Those who worked against me during the national polls are now seeking my support.”

Nepotism, divisions at grassroots

The tendency of relatives of ministers and MPs becoming candidates may rise this time as there will be no party symbol in the polls, according to the central leaders of the Awami League.

They say if candidates for the upazila polls were nominated centrally, then chances would have been slim for AKM Bahar’s daughter Tahseen to get the party nomination. As the party opened up the candidature, his MP father brought her to limelight by nominating only her from Cumilla city Awami League.

The incumbent chairman of Madaripur Sadar upazila Obaidur Rahman Khan is a presidium member of the Awami League and a former minister of Awami League. He is also the brother of Awami League MP Shahjahan Khan. However, Shahjahan Khan’s son Asibur Rahman Khan was declared a chairman candidate for the upazila elections. The party leaders feel that Shahjahan Khan will bring his son to the fore this time instead of his brother.

Meanwhile, Madaripur District Awami League has declared its organising secretary Pavelur Rahman Khan, cousin of Shahjahan Khan, as the chairman candidate.

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Speaking to Prothom Alo in this regard, Awami League joint general secretary AFM Bahauddin Nasim said, “I can say for sure that the elections will be competitive regardless of one or several candidates (fielded by local AL units).”

Asked whether this strategy is further increasing the power of local MPs, the central Awami League leader said, “The extension of democratic practices are more important than who became powerful in this case.”

However, speaking on condition of anonymity, a central Awami League leader told Prothom Alo there could be a number of relatives of MPs and ministers contesting the upazila polls this time. The MPs want to make their relatives candidates in many upazilas, which is not taken well by a portion of the Awami League leaders and activists.

He feels that this strategy of the party will lead to further more conflicts within the party.

*This report appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu