Gazipur city polls: Fair elections must continue

The election to Gazipur City Corporation was held in a fair and peaceful manner. With the parliamentary election due in the next couple of months, this local government election carries significance for various reasons. Though BNP did not take part in this city election, an independent candidate emerged victorious as mayor in the election battle defeating the ruling Awami League candidate.

According to a Prothom Alo report, voting was held from 8:00am to 4:00am on Thursday using electronic voting machine (EVM) at all centres and the unofficial results show Zayeda Khatun, the mother of former city mayor Jahangir Alam, defeated ruling party candidate Azmat Ullah by more than 16,000 votes. Voter turnout was also noticeable in the Gazipur city polls compared to other local government elections and by-polls to parliamentary seats, which were held in the recent past. People from all walk of life, including men, women, elderly people and youth, were seen standing in queues since the morning to cast their ballot.

Several aspects of election management have been noticed in Gazipur. CCTV cameras were installed in all polling centres. Law enforcement agencies taking side of no candidate on voting day, presence of no unwanted persons in the voting booths, and absence of repression by ruling party candidates, played an important role for holding a fair election. The overall environment of the election was peaceful. Many voters, however, complained about delaying in ballot casting as their fingerprints did not match with the EVM. Many polling centres had no agents except the agent of the ruling party candidate, but no irregularities took place since CCTV cameras were installed.

The ruling party candidate conceded defeat to an unknown and inexperienced contender. Previously, he was also defeated by BNP leader MA Mannan in the first election of Gazipur city in 2013.

It is apparent that voters’ no-confidence played main role behind the victory of Zayeda Khatun and the defeat of the Gazipur Awami League veteran leader Azmat Ullah.

Former mayor Jahangir Alam faced various allegations during his tenure, but the poll's results indicate voters did appreciate the manner in which he had been removed from the mayoral post. His candidacy in this election was also cancelled on grounds of being a guarantor of a loan defaulter. And, a portion of the voters might be sympathetic to Zayeda Khatun for all these reasons. Besides, Zayeda Khatun is believed to have been bagged most of the anti-government votes.

According to media reports, Awami League candidate had received cooperation from administration since the election schedule was announced while campaign of opposition candidates was barred and they were attacked. But, finally, voters got the opportunity to vote for their chosen candidate as the election was held fairly.

On 24 May, the US Department of State has announced a new visa policy on the night before the voting day, aimed at ensuring free, fair and peaceful national elections in Bangladesh.

Under this policy, the United States will be able to restrict the issuance of visas for any Bangladeshi individual, believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh. And, this visa policy might work for holding a fair election in Gazipur.

Election is scheduled to be held in four cities – Khulna, Barishal, Rajshahi and Sylhet – in June, and it is the responsibility of the election commission to ensure a level playing field and fair polls.

We expect that the precedence of fair election that was set in Gazipur would continue in these our cities and if election to these four city corporations is conducted in a credible manner, a congenital atmosphere may arise for the next national election.