Third gender voters play an important role while candidates try wooing voters under adverse weather
With only two days to go before Khulna City Corporation (KCC) election, mayoral candidates are doing their best to win voters' hearts and minds. Scheduled to be held on May 15, this is the first time the KCC election is going to be held under party mandate.
According to political analysts and leaders, candidates from Awami League and BNP Talukder Abdul Khalek and Nazrul Islam Monju are both going to face tough competition this year as the majority of the voters fall under a younger age group who do not fall under the tutelage of either of the political party.
This year, a total of 5,25,27 new voters have been enlisted. Among them, 45,000 are labours. Many experts have opined that the young population and labours will play a defining role on who gets to become the mayor.
28-year-old Syed Salman Zaman said: "I am a new voter. People from my city suffer from various problems such as water crisis, dilapidated roads, as well as severe traffic congestion. I will vote the candidate who I think will be fit to deal with these problems."
He further added that the mayor should be honest and popular among the mass.
Several other young voters concurred with Salman about casting their own votes.
Khulna, being an industrial area, has a large labour population, which makes their votes crucial in winning any election.
According to Coordinator of Greater Khulna Development Movement committee Sheikh Ashrafuzzaman, most of the voters from Khalispur, Daulatpur and Kashipur in Khulna are workers. Their votes define the fate of the election. Last year, majority of the votes went in favour of the BNP candidate.
He said: "Party supporters know where their votes will go. But others are still undecided. Since young workers are not part of any political parties, nobody knows how the election will eventually turn out."
Mofizur Rahman, a worker from Khalispur commented: "We do not participate in political activities. I will only cast my vote to the person I think will fight for our rights."
According to Khulna election commission, a total 4,93,107 voters will cast their votes this year under 31 wards. Among them, there are 2,48,986 men and 2,44,527 women.
In 2013, there were 4,40,566 voters.
According to the EC, five people are contesting for the mayoral post this year. Among them Awami League nominated candidate Talukder Abdul Khalek and BNP’s candidate Nazrul Islam Monju are the main contesters. Rest of them are—Jatiya Party’s Shafiqur Rahman Musfiq, Communist Party of Bangladesh’s Mizanur Rahman Babu and Islami Andolon Bangladesh’s candidate Mawlana Muzzammil Haque.
This year 148 people are contesting for the post of councilor in 31 wards while 39 women are participating under 10 reserved councils in the KCC election.
Hundreds of third gender people will cast votes in the KCC election for the second time in 2018.
According to several rights groups, people from third gender community currently have no opportunities. They live in dire conditions with no civic rights such as education, medical facilities and social security.
Just before the election commences, mayoral candidates are busy trying to woo third gender voters after giving them promises of equal rights.
Pakhi, a person belonging to the third gender told the Dhaka Tribune nearly 500 third gender people were enlisted as voters and all of them want to change their fates according to their own will. However, they are yet to receive any support from policymakers. They are hopeful that the newly elected mayor will support them in living a just like a person from any other gender.
However, EC failed to confirm the actual number of third gender voters who will be casting votes this year.
Khulna EC’s returning officer Md Yunus Ali informed they currently have no database about third gender voters.
Central leaders of Awami League and BNP are busy campaigning for their own party nominated leaders.
Awami League Joint General Secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif, Relief and Welfare secretary Sheikh Helal MP, , Executive Member SM Kamal Hossain, Deputy Office Secretary Biplab Barua and leaders of affiliated organizations of Awami League have campaigned for party candidate.
A team of Awami League led 14-party alliance is still campaigning for Awami League candidate Abul Khalek.
BNP central leaders are also campaigning party candidate Monju. BNP standing committee member Goyeshwar Chandra Roy stayed in Khulna and campaigned for Monju for days.
Electric voting machine will be used in two polling centers among 289 centers in this year's election. Expert teams have already reached Khulna to supervise the machines.
The EVMs will be used in Sonapota Government Primary School polling center under ward no 24 and PTI Jasim Uddin Hostel centre under ward no 27. A total of 2,971 voters will cast their votes using the EVMs, informed sources from EC office in Khulna.
Ruhul Amin, election officer of Bagerhat and in-charge of the two centers where EVMs will be used told the Dhaka Tribune that an expert team reached Khulna last Wednesday. They are currently campaigning about the proper use of EVMs. A tutorial video on using EVMs has been airing near the two centers and will be aired until May 14.
“We will also take mock votes using EVMs," said Ruhul Amin.
More than political rivals, mayoral candidates in the KCC election have been facing tougher times fighting against the adverse weather while campaigning.
On Friday and Saturday, election campaigns were put on a complete halt due to heavy rain and stormy weather. All posters, banners and gates were destroyed by the Nor’wester.
Met office warned that the adverse weather will be continue for days in Khulna.
Munshi Mahbub Alam, office secretary of Awami League Khulna city unit, said: “All the posters we hung were damaged by the frequent storms. Besides, we were also unable to use our full working forces due to unfavourable weather."
BNP mayoral candidate Nazrul Islam Monju also admitted that his election campaign was severely hampered due to the prevailing unfavourable weather.
SM Aminul Islam, councilor candidate on ward no 18 said: “EC limits election expenses at Tk20,00,00. But all of the posters were damaged by rain. If I try making new posters, my election expenses will surpass the limit set by EC. No press will take new orders now. This weather impeded our election campaigns a lot."
Leaders and activists are in a panic as police and law enforcers have started arresting BNP politicians before the start of the election.
Nazrul Islam Monju alleged that around 120 people were arrested by law enforcers in last week only. Law enforcement agencies raided houses of at least 200 BNP leaders and activists in Khulna city on Tuesday. However, police claimed they arrested people who have been accused in several criminal cases.
BNP leaders think the mass arrest drive was created to ensue panic among BNP party members so that the election carries out in favour of Awami League candidates instead.
On May 3, Monju suspended his campaign for around four hours protesting against the arrest of 21 BNP party members in a single night.
In response to Monju's allegation, Khulna Metropolitan Police Commissioner Humayun Kabir claimed based upon previous information, they launched drives to arrest people who were already accused in criminal cases.
Meanwhile, Awami League mayoral candidate Talukder Abdul Khaleq countered BNP's allegations at a press conference.
EC confirmed members of law enforcement agencies will be on the field for four day before and after the election. Members of Border Guard Bangladesh, police, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), and Ansar and VDP will be deployed on May 13 and will be on duty till May 16.
49 executive magistrates will also be on duty during these four days alongside 10 judicial magistrates.
EC returning officer Yunus Ali said at least 22 to 24 law enforcers will constantly monitor any given centre during the voting process.
A total of 10 teams of police, APBN and Ansar and VDP will be deployed in Khulna as strike forces, while 31 teams of RAB and 16 platoons of BGB will be on patrol during May 13-16.
Three to four platoons of BGB will be kept as reserved force as well.
In order to ensure a smooth voting process, EC has banned outsiders from entering Khulna from 12am on May 12. People who have not been enlisted as voters in the KCC will not be allowed to enter areas around poll centres after the deadline.
Hotels and other accommodation places have already been warned to not let any outsider stay inside them during the KCC.
While BNP leaders are accusing Awami League of using law enforcement agencies to arrest leaders and activists right before the start of the election, Awami League leaders are blaming Monju of trying to create anarchy inside Khulna city.
On Saturday morning, Monju alleged that accused Awami League leaders of threatening his supporters, citing that they could not get out of their houses in fear of getting arrested.
On the other hand, on Saturday afternoon, Sheikh Harunur Rashid, chief election coordinating agent of Abdul Khalek and district Awami League president in a press conference blamed BNP activists of trying to create chaos in the city sensing Monju's imminent defeat in the election.
He also alleged that on Friday morning Monju threatened Awami League central working committee member SM Kamal Hossain and at night his supporters blasted several crude bombs at PTI intersection, Shibbari intersection, Rupsha and Zero points in the city. However, police could not confirm these allegations.