Gazipur City corporation polls: Does the model myth hold water?

The first thing that stands out when one enters Tongi, the entry point of Gazipur from Dhaka, is the number of posters. 

They hang from almost every pole, even going from building to building.

They are also plastered on the walls.

This is the first violation of the electoral code of conduct observed. The rules clearly state that no posters can be pasted on any wall. 

More posters can be seen as one begins to travel through the city. Most prominent among these, is the one of Boat candidate Azmat Ullah. 

Azmat is the man tasked with securing Awami League’s stronghold. 

The atmosphere – adorned with colourful posters – seems festive on the surface. But there is an anomaly.

What’s prominent by its absence is how Azmat’s top rival, Zaida Khatun, is nowhere to be seen. 

This correspondent found only a few of her stickers pasted on an electricity pole in one area. Those too are barely visible unless you get close enough.

Locals said they had seen more of Zaida’s posters, but some men came and tore those off.

Iqbal Hossain, a resident of Munshipara, said they were not allowed to put up Zaida’s posters. 

“Some men came at night to put up posters. But a group of people did not allow that poster to be put up,” he said.

Iqbal wouldn’t name names, but said they were ruling party men.

“Even others have lost courage seeing this,” he said. 

The model

Earlier on May 10, at a view exchange meeting with contestants of the city polls in Gazipur, Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal said, “The Gazipur City Corporation election is very important to us. There will be a general election in the future…That is why the Gazipur election should be a model.”

The view was later reiterated on 20 May, when EC Secretary Md Jahangir Alam, in a meeting with the presiding officers, said the Election Commission (EC) was considering the election of five city corporations as a trial for the upcoming national election.

To ensure a “level-playing field”, the EC pulled out all stops. Gazipur, currently, is cocooned in a security blanket.

The EC is set to use the highest number of CCTV cameras since it began the practice following the debacle in Gaibandha, where the election had to be called-off following gross violations.

This time, around 4,447 closed-circuit cameras are being used. The number of cameras in each centre will depend on its size, the number of booths and what needs to be captured on tape. 

Besides the cameras, there will be 16 law enforcement personnel on duty in each centre. Important centres will have 17 law enforcement personnel.   

The election commission first started using CCTV cameras on 12 October, 2022 in the Gaibandha bypoll. 

A giant LED monitor was set up in the election commission secretariat where the CEC and other ECs observed the polls centrally. 

After seeing the images of widespread irregularities, the EC stopped the polls midway. 

This had generated a widespread discussion of the election and CCTV.  

Later, the EC used CCTV on Zilla Parishad polls, Cumilla and Rangpur City Corporation elections, as well as for four municipality elections.

In a press conference on October 17, 2022, when asked if the EC had any plans to monitor the upcoming 12th National Polls through CCTV, the CEC said, “It will be seen when the time comes…there will be an effort to build greater capacity on a larger scale.”

The reality

Despite the security measures in place, Election Commissioner Md Alamgir yesterday said around 70% of the polling centres in Gazipur are at risk as they have been identified as vulnerable.

“Out of 480 polling stations, 351 polling stations or 73.12% have been identified as vulnerable,” he told reporters at the Election Commission headquarters in the capital’s Agargaon.

Alamgir said, “Although there is no threat, since it is an industrial area, extra measures have been taken so that miscreants or those with ulterior motives cannot create an unjust situation.”

On the condition of anonymity, a BNP leader of Ward-15, expressed worries that the party’s votes would be split as the BNP did not nominate a candidate.

He, however, said a fair election would mean that Zaida Khatun, Zahangir’s mother, would win.

Meanwhile, rival councillor candidates alleged that ruling party nominees were harassing them and obstructing their campaigns.

They said they had even made complaints to the returning officer.

In this regard, Returning Officer Faridul Islam told The Business Standard that the election environment was good so far. 

“Everyone is campaigning in their own way. We will take action if we receive complaints.”

According to local voters, the main fight will be between Azmat Ullah and Zaida Khatun. They believe that Jatiya Party’s MN Niaz Uddin may be in the third position.

The Gazipur city election is the biggest and most talked about election for the current EC after it assumed office on February 28, 2022.

The polls have also been termed as high voltage and a trial for the EC before the national election. 

In the 2018 Gazipur city polls, there were a total of seven mayoral candidates. Zahangir Alon had won at the polls, which had a voter turnout of 57.02%.

In 2013, BNP’s MA Mannan won the race against six others. The voter turnout was 63.69%.

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