Sylhet city has 321,732 registered voters, who are ready for the city polls set to take place Monday
With the citizens of Sylhet set to exercise their franchise on Monday, seven mayor candidates, including three independent runners, are eyeing a win in the fourth city corporation polls.
But as it usually happens, the main battle for ballots will likely take place between Awami League’s Badar Uddin Ahmad Kamran and BNP’s Ariful Haque Chowdhury.
However, many analysts say that Jamaat-e-Islami leader Ehsanul Mahbub Zubair joining the race and past incarceration of Ariful may adversely impact the latter’s possibility to retain power.
Zubair, also the chief of Jamaat’s Sylhet city unit, is in the race as an independent candidate of the Nagorik Forum, a pro-Jamaat organization.
Ariful, who recently resigned as the Sylhet mayor to seek re-election, had remained detached from regular official activities since he was in jail in three cases for around 27 months out of a five-year term.
BNP terms false and politically motivated all three cases, two of which were filed over the murder of former finance minister and senior Awami League leader Shah AMS Kibria.
Ariful, currently out on bail in all cases, is charge sheeted in these two cases.
When contacted, Ariful said he doubts that a free and fair election will take place, pointing his finger at the ruling party’s “muscle power and vote rigging attitude.”
He also blamed the government for harassing him and his supporters in a biased manner, hinting towards the arrest of Abdur Razzak, the chief coordinator of his campaign, on Saturday night.
The BNP leader, however, did not make comment over the possible impact of Zubair’s candidature.
Meanwhile, several local journalists and civil society members have said that Ariful may fall short of his targeted votes mainly because of Zubair’s participation.
Sylhet city has 321,732 registered voters. Many suspect that the Jamaat aspirant will bag around 15,000 votes, adversely impacting the results.
In the 2013 mayor election, Ariful had won bagging 107,330 votes, and defeating Awami League leader Kamran by 35,157 votes.
Local journalist Noor Ahmed said: “Considering the current situation and the 2013 polls results, we think that even a margin of 5,000 votes will matter greatly this time.”
BNP leaders close to Ariful said Zubair joining the fray will mostly help Kamran. According to them, Kamran contesting the election proved that BNP is longer dependent on Jamaat’s support.
“In the last city polls, he [Zubair] and his supporters had campaigned for the Awami League-backed candidate even though Jamaat is our ally,” said a BNP leader, requesting anonymity, who works at Ariful’s campaign office.
Sources at Jamaat’s Sylhet city unit have also claimed that Zubair may bag at least 10% of the total votes.
The Jamaat candidate was not available for comments.
Rights activist Advocate Emad Ullah Shahidul Islam, however, said that the Jamaat supporters in Sylhet city are mostly settlers and their backing will not earn Zubair a “respectful defeat.”
“Zubair may get 10,000-15,000 votes, not more than that. But even a single vote might impact the results,” he added.