A total of 1,137,736 voters are expected to exercise their franchise today
Today’s Gazipur City polls will be a test of popularity for the ruling Awami League, which has been in office for nearly a decade, and the BNP, which sat out the 2014 election.
With the BNP’s Chairperson Khaleda Zia behind bars in a corruption case since February and the national election only months away, a victory in Gazipur will give the party a huge moral boost.
On the other hand, BNP’s victory will likely deliver a heavy blow to the Awami League, eyeing a third consecutive term in office.
Apprehensions of vote rigging in both camps have made it a big challenge for the Election Commission to prove that it is capable of organizing a free, fair and acceptable election.
A total of 1,137,736 voters are expected to exercise their franchise today to elect a mayor and 76 councillors – 57 general wards councillors and 19 reserve women councilors – for a five-year term.
Gazipur, Bangladesh’s 11th city corporation, was formed in January 2013 comprising Tongi and Gazipur municipalities.
Preparations to organize the second election to the city corporation are complete. A public holiday has been declared in the city corporation area, where voting will take place between 8am to 4pm.
EC Secretary Helal Uddin Ahmed said they have distributed ballot papers, ballot boxes, stamps and other documents to the polling centers.
Returning Officer Rakib Uddin Mandol said 15,000 members of police, Rapid Action Battalion and Border Guard Bangladesh will be deployed on the day.
Doubts over fair election
Rakib said all 425 polling centers are ready. However, 337 of them have been marked as vulnerable or risky.
Although the returning officer claimed that a level-playing field has been created, many voters and candidates say they fear the votes will be rigged.
There are seven mayoral aspirants this time but election observers say the main fight will take place between Awami League’s Jahangir Alam and BNP’s Hasan Uddin Sarker.
Five other mayoral candidates are - Md Ruhul Amin of Communist Party of Bangladesh, Md Jalal Uddin of Bangladesh Islami Front, Fazlul Haque Minar of Islami Oikkya Jote, Md Nasir Uddin of Islami Andolan Bangladesh and independent candidate Farid Ahmed.
There are 254 general councillor candidates contesting for 57 posts, while 84 women are vying for 19 seats reserved for women.
Awami League’s Jahangir said the voters will be able to exercise their franchise amid a joyous atmosphere. “I believe the people will vote for us,” he said.
But BNP’s Sarkar has expressed doubts over an impartial election.
‘Acid test’ for EC
The BNP has dubbed the Gazipur polls an ‘acid test’ for both the government and the EC.
The Gazipur election is taking place after the Khulna City Corporation polls.
The ruling party and the EC have called it a free and fair election but BNP has denounced it, saying the election was “full of irregularities.”
Analysts and election observers say Gazipur is the one last chance for the EC to regain the people’s trust by organizing a peaceful and acceptable election.
Shujan Secretary Badiul Alam Majumder noted that the “credibility that the EC gained after Rangpur election is almost gone after the Khulna election.”
Veteran journalist Afsan Chowdhury told the Dhaka Tribune that the Gazipur election is a test for the EC.
“In Khulna, the EC failed to conduct a fair election. So the Gazipur election is a priority for the Election Commission to establish their role with a fair and transparent election,” he said.