All candidates – both chosen and rebel – have kicked off official campaigns after getting electoral symbols
Jamaat-e-Islami is set to defy the BNP and keep its own mayoral candidate in the Sylhet City Corporation elections slated for July 30.
With Jamaat dithering over its response to its senior ally’s request, BNP on Tuesday took decisive action by expelling its Sylhet city unit general secretary, Badruzzaman Selim, for pressing ahead with his plans to contest the city polls in defiance of the party decision.
The situation might lead Ariful Haque Chowdhury, the official mayoral candidate of the BNP-led 20-party alliance, to face off with two rebel aspirants from Jamaat and BNP itself, in addition to Badar Uddin Ahmed Kamran from the ruling Awami League.
Jamaat’s Sylhet city unit chief Ehsanul Mahbub Zubair, who is running as an independent runner, did not leave the race on Monday, which was the last day for withdrawal of nomination papers.
BNP had hoped that the duo would withdraw their candidacy at the last moment.
“Even though candidates from our alliance will be competing against me, I do not think this will be a problem for our party,” Ariful said. “If the election is held in a free and fair manner, no one will be able to prevent BNP’s victory.”
Ehsanul said Jamaat had let BNP field their own candidates in all the previous elections based on the quid pro quo relationship between the parties.
“Now we want to participate in the polls and are following through, so why should we withdraw?” he said.
Local leaders of both parties think that the result of the elections may significantly be altered under these circumstances.
BNP top brass is considering Jamaat’s lack of cooperation as a forecast for future bargaining in the upcoming 11th parliamentary election.
They believe that the competition among BNP and Jamaat mayoral runners in Sylhet will eventually affect their political alliance.
However, the Election Commission on Tuesday allotted the electoral symbols to the seven mayoral candidates and 127 general and 62 reserved seat councillor aspirants.
Ariful was given the “sheaf of paddy” symbol of BNP, Kamran the “boat” of Awami League, while Ehsanul got the “wall clock” and Badruzzaman the “bus.”
After Returning Officer Md Alimuzzaman distributed the symbols in the morning, all the candidates kicked off their official election campaigns across the city.
BNP, Jamaat keep butting heads
BNP thinks that since their candidate, Ariful, has done a lot of good for the city in his previous term as the Sylhet mayor, he will be able to capitalize on his popular support and emerge victorious.
This is despite Ariful - who recently resigned as the city mayor to seek re-election - having spent half of his five-year-term in prison in connection with the murder of former finance minister Shah AMS Kibria, and a number of bomb blast cases including one on the Sunamganj's Dirai public meet of the Awami League.
Jamaat leaders and activists had kept a low profile in Sylhet city since Awami League came to power but have become very proactive since June, a month ahead of the election.
The Jamaat leaders and activists who were hiding until now have also resurfaced to join the campaign of their candidate.
BNP leaders suspect that Jamaat and Awami League are working together – which Ehsanul has vehemently denied.
Nevertheless, commentators believe the prospect of three candidates from the BNP-led coalition trying to defeat each other in the polls will eventually give Awami League candidate Kamran the upper hand.
Senior leader of the party, Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury, said they are not concerned about rebel candidate, Badruzzaman Selim.
“He will not get many votes, but we are worried about Jamaat (and) we expect the Jamaat candidate to withdraw for the sake of alliance,” he said.
BNP Standing Committee Member and 20-party alliance coordinator Nazrul Islam Khan said they were yet to take a decision on the matter.