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Dhaka Tribune

'We want to show the whole world that the Awami League can hold an unquestionably free election'

In an exclusive interview with Dhaka Tribune's Senior Reporter Ali Asif Shawon, renowned personality, Prof Mohammad Ali Arafat, shared his thoughts on the polls, which are scheduled to be held on July 17

Update : 27 Jun 2023, 02:00 PM

Prof Mohammad Ali Arafat is an academic, political analyst and commentator, as well as the founding convener and current chairman of Suchinta Foundation, a Bangladeshi non-profit think tank and research centre. He is also a member of the Awami League's Central Working Committee, and is set to contest the Dhaka-17 by-polls on the ruling party ticket. In an interview with Dhaka Tribune's Senior Reporter Ali Asif Shawon, renowned personality, Prof Mohammad Ali Arafat, shared his thoughts on the polls, which are scheduled to be held on July 17.

You previously worked behind the scenes in elections for the Awami League, but this time you will take centre stage in the Dhaka-17 by-polls. How are you feeling?

Exactly. Earlier I was involved in processing the election manifesto and initiating election campaign strategy, but this time my aim is total election management for the Dhaka-17 constituency. One thing is very important; winning or losing in the election does not only depend on the candidate, but it also depends on the voter's mandate.  Motivating voters and bringing them to the polling centres on election day is very challenging and important. 

For example, in Dhaka-17 we have to prepare 124 voting centre committees, four ward committees, and a central election management committee. If we can ensure that Awami League leaders, activists, and their family members vote through the committees, then there are 25 to 30 thousand votes within the party. In addition, we need to motivate the general voters. All of these things work as part of the election process. A candidate may think that he is a popular face or celebrity so the people will vote for him, but this concept may not apply during an election. An election is a different ball game altogether. I previously had these perceptions myself, but this time I am learning the election process more intensively.

The Dhaka-17 by-polls come at a critical time as they are likely the last polls before the next parliamentary election. Voter turnout has also been poor in recent elections. How will you motivate your voters in this situation?

You are absolutely right. Naturally, voter interest is low here because the national election is very close, and this poll is only for a few months. In addition, our opposition BNP and their allied forces are not participating in this poll directly, but they are in the electoral race in different ways. They have two aims: one is to defeat Awami League candidates, and another is to ensure a low voter turnout.

Prof Mohammad Ali Arafat Dhaka Tribune

We have three challenges. The first one is to secure victory, the second one is to ensure a good voter turnout, and the last one is to conduct a free, fair, and transparent election that no one can question the process. As this is the last election before the national polls, we want to show the whole world through this election that the Awami League is the only party in Bangladesh that can hold an unquestionably free election.

We have already set a lot of examples under the current Election Commission. Although the BNP did not participate in recent polls, it failed to stop voter turnout as almost 50-60% of voters cast their ballots without the BNP. I think the BNP is under pressure now, and already the BNP has expelled almost 134 party leaders who joined the recent polls.

What are your thoughts on your competing candidates, including the youtuber Hero Alom?

A total of nine candidates are contesting the by-polls, including me. I will not make any remarks against any particular candidate. As a citizen of Bangladesh, every legally capable person has the right to participate in polls. I want to welcome all of my opponents, because at least they are following the electoral process and not escaping from the polls like other political parties. My focus is only on the Boat, the electoral symbol of the Awami League and of the people of this area.

What are the demographics of the Dhaka-17 constituency?

From what I have observed, there are more lower- and middle-income people as well as slum dwellers here in Dhaka-17 compared to rich and posh people. Historically, the winning candidates get more votes from the lower- and middle-income people of this area. It's true, this constituency is important as the diplomatic zone is located here, but my focus will be on all types of people of the Gulshan-Banani area, from the rich to the slum dwellers.

Although you will have very little time, what will you do for the people of the area if you are elected?

I will announce my detailed election manifesto shortly. One thing that is true is that development is lacking in some parts of this constituency as there were no Awami League MPs here other than Farooque Bhai (the late Akbar Hossain Pathan Farooque). Unfortunately, Farooque Bhai was hospitalized for years and that's why he could not focus properly. I have visited the whole constituency already and there is a lot of work to do here.

What response have you had from the people of the area?

Mohammad Arafat: I can firmly say that I am getting a very good and positive response from the people of this area. My well-wishers and opinion leaders of the Gulshan, Banani and Baridhara areas have already started working with me from their sides.

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