Jamaat's anti-government movement during the trial and death penalties of its leaders for war crimes of 1971 was strong in Sylhet, party members said. They said there were fewer clashes with the law enforcement in the district, although many leaders and activists are facing cases
Jamaat-E-Islami is floating its own mayor candidate in the Sylhet City Corporation election, in clear opposition to its ally BNP despite having worked together in the region for years.
Party insiders are saying this is part of Jamaat's plan to make its presence known ahead of the national election.
The party believes that outside of Chittagong, Sylhet is one of their stronger bases.
Jamaat's anti-government movement during the trial and death penalties of its leaders for war crimes of 1971 was strong in Sylhet, party members said. They said there were fewer clashes with the law enforcement in the district, although many leaders and activists are facing cases.
The party is looking at the Sylhet city polls as an opportunity to demonstrate organizational strength and consolidate the ranks. It wants to reverse the impression in the political arena that Jamaat is crippled organizationally, insiders said.
The local Jamaat members showed up in throngs when Jamaat city unit chief Ahsanul Mahbub Jubayer opened his central campaign office in the city's Electric Supply Road.
He is running for mayor under the banner of Nagorik (citizen's) Forum.
The candidate has said many times is that Jamaat's priority is to take part in the election and the victory is not important. He said Jamaat candidates would be taking part in more local elections in the future.
With this strategy in mind, the party pushed its ally BNP hard to back its candidate in the Sylhet city polls, but to no avail.
For the first time in 22 years, a visible rift has formed between the staunch allies.
A Jamaat leader seeking anonymity said the party had asked BNP to let them float their candidate in this city, having backed the BNP candidates in 10 out of the 11 cities.
“BNP did not keep our request. We were displeased but not frustrated,” he said.
At a recent press briefing in Sylhet, senior BNP leader Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury said outgoing mayor and BNP central leader Ariful Haque Chowdhury was the candidate nominated by the 20-party Alliance, while Ahsanul was running independently.
Despite his message, BNP and Jamaat in Sylhet clearly appear to have moved away from each other.
The two parties are doing their own campaigns. Arif and Ahsanul have both met leaders of other allied parties, seeking their support.
Among the allies, Khelafat Majlish has a strong voter base in the city. Khelafat Sylhet unit Joint Secretary Delwar Hossain said the party was backing the alliance mayor candidate Ariful.
A small voter base
Jamaat-e-Islami contended the Sylhet 1 parliamentary seat in the 1996 elections. Their candidate, the party's Secretary General Shafiqur Rahman, bagged 18,029 votes or about 10% of the 183,880 that were cast, coming in third.
Awami League won the seat that time. After that election, Jamaat joined in alliance with BNP and has so far contended elections together.
Jamaat leaders said by their estimate they have about 5% of the votes in Sylhet. For 321,732 registered voters in the city, that is roughly 16,000 voters.
“In 1996 we got 10% of the votes in Sylhet 1. The city was smaller back then, and it had fewer voters,” Jamat's mayor candidate Ahsanul said.
“Now the party is in a strong position and people have more sympathy towards us,” he claimed.
However, Ahsanul said the election would not affect the relationship between Jamaat and BNP.