The Awami League and BNP see the upcoming city corporation polls as a test of popularity and a chance to assert their dominance over their rivals before the next parliamentary elections.
Party leaders said the results of the local government polls would have a big impact on the 11th national election, scheduled for late next year or early in 2019.
The main opposition BNP has already been buoyed by its performances in the most recent city elections, when its candidates defeated those of the ruling party in five out of six city corporations.
“Khaleda Zia and senior leaders hope the party’s previous success in local government polls will boost the confidence of BNP activists,” BNP standing committee member Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury said.
BNP, though, has been somewhat inactive in the political arena in recent months. The party also boycotted the last national election in 2014 and has been accusing the government of persecuting its leaders and activists – a charge the government denies.
Awami League and BNP policymakers said they would formulate their strategies for the 11th national election after observing the city polls. However, sources said both parties are already mobilising their activists.
“These [city polls] are more like warm-up matches but we are taking it very seriously,” Awami League presidium member Pijush Kanti Bhattacharya told the Dhaka Tribune. “We want to win in all six cities by huge margins.”
Awami League Joint General Secretary Abdur Rahman said the city polls results would have a huge impact on the next parliamentary polls.
“We will give highest priority to the city corporation elections (and) we want to win all cities by a landslide,” he said.
The parties have reportedly ordered their potential candidates and grassroots leaders to be on a “war footing” as Rangpur becomes the first city to go to the polls next month.
The elections to Sylhet, Rajshahi, Khulna, Barisal and Gazipur city corporations are scheduled to be held next year.
For Rangpur, the Awami League has nominated incumbent Mayor Sharfuddin Ahmed Jhantu. Badaruddin Kamran from Sylhet and Khairuzzaman Liton from Rajshahi say they have also been given the green signal from the Awami League to hit the campaign trail for the city polls.
They told the Dhaka Tribune that they had asked party leaders and activists to promote the government’s achievements while highlighting “acts of violence” committed by the BNP and Jamaat.
BNP is yet to pick a candidate for Rangpur but party leaders have said they will participate in all upcoming elections.
“We have participated in all the previous local government elections,” the party’s secretary general, Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, said. “We might take part in the city corporation elections as well if everything stays okay.”
At an October 22 meeting, party chief Khaleda Zia asked BNP leaders to prepare for the city corporation elections.
The city polls will highlight the strengths and weaknesses of rival parties and the role and efficiency of the administration, and will serve as a test for the KM Nurul Huda-led Election Commission (EC), which assumed office in February.
“We want to see how the new EC handles the city polls,” Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury said. “We believe this will be an acid test for the EC.”
Khosru said the BNP would decide on the national polls after observing EC’s activities in city elections.