On Bhola-3 by-election

Posted in politics by jrahman on November 4, 2009

They just had a number of off year elections in the US. Pundits are analysing the results in New Jersey and Virginia governor races and the Congress by-election (or whatever it is called over there) to draw inferences about President Obama’s popularity with the voters.

Let’s leave that analysis to the Americans and think about the upcoming by-election in Bhola-3. In the absence of credible opinion poll (what happened to the Daily Star Nielsen poll?), this will be a good guide to the current political trends in Bangladesh.

I do some aggregate number crunching in what follows.  BNP may well reclaim the seat, but the magnitude of the victory will point to how (un)popular the AL government is.  But this is based on no knowledge whatosever about the local issues.  Anyone in the house from Bhola to enlighten us?

This seat was won by Major Hafiz in 1991, 1996, and 2001. In 1991, he ran as an independent and won 44.9% votes. His nearest rival was from the Awami League, who won 32.3%. Nazrul Islam, another independent, came 3rd with 18.3%. In 1996, Hafiz ran as a BNP candidate and picked up 59%. In that election, Jamaat ran a candidate, grabbing 2.3%. AL nominated Nazrul Islam, who took 36.6%. In 2001, Hafiz won 65.8% against the AL’s heavy-weight candidate Tofayel Ahmed’s 33.7%. Nazrul Islam came 3rd with Jatiya Party (Ershad) ticket, getting 0.3%.

Hafiz lost the seat in 2008. Running with dhaner sheesh, Hafiz got 45.7% against 52.8% taken by AL’s Major Jashim. But then it turned out that Major Jashim’s candidature was illegal under electoral law. Hence the prospect of by-election here.

So, what could we expect from this by-election? Hafiz needs a swing of 3.5 percentage points to win Bhola-3. Is this possible? I don’t know anything about the local politics in Bhola to answer that question. I do, however, note the following.

1. In a densely populated poverty-stricken country like Bangladesh, the incumbent always starts out in a disadvantage.

2. After accounting for the AL-JP and BNP-JI alliances, it seems that Hafiz’s vote share has a floor of about 45%, while the best that AL could muster was slightly over the 50% mark (52.8% in December).

3. It also seems that Hafiz has been much stronger in this electorate than BNP (with or without alllies) has been nationally. For example, in 2001, the four-party alliance bagged about 46% of votes nationally, while in 2008, the alliance received about 38%. This is presumably why he was taken back to the party despite being the ‘chairman’ of the ‘reformist’ BNP during the emergency.

4. One could expect a very energised campaign by BNP in this rather marginal seat (swings of 5 points is pretty common in Bangladesh).

None of this predicts a win for Maj Hafiz. As I said, I don’t know anything about the local politics. For all I know, the following could be true.

5. Maybe Hafiz is very controversial — he did see a 20-point drop between 2001 and 2008, much bigger than BNP’s national drop of 8 points.

6. Maybe sections of the local BNP is dead set against him, perhaps because of his ‘reformist’ record.

7. Surely AL will throw everything at retaining the seat. Of course, everything may well mean ugly things like ballot stuffing, intimidation, and other sundry offences that go under the name rigging. Readers can be forgiven for thinking about the infamous Magura by-election. How will we know if this happens? If Hafiz’s vote drops below 45%, that would be a pretty strong sign.

Finally, a narrow win by Hafiz won’t necessarily mean AL has lost popularity.  Given its performance in the 1990s, if AL cracked 40% here then that could very well be taken as voter satisfaction.   

So much for electoral arithmetic.  Can anyone share some grassroot insight here?

(Cross-posted at UV)

Data from New Age’s excellent election portal.  I couldn’t appreciate how fabulous it was in December because of bandwidth problem.  Well done guys. 🙂

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  1. […] (More at Mukti) […]

  2. concerned citizen said, on November 10, 2009 at 4:42 am

    Is Bangladesh heading towards civil war? The possibility is there.

  3. […] to professional bodies.  With the opposition having at least a competitive shot at the coming Bhola-3 election, are we approaching a tipping point […]

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