Winners and losers in NCC – 2

Posted in politics by jrahman on November 1, 2011

(Updated: 11.11am BDT, 2 Nov)

Obviously Shamim Osman is the big loser, and Selina Hayat Ivy is the big winner.  Every news headline in Bangladesh has that story — so no link.  And there is no shortage of punditry.  I am just adding my thoughts for the record — so that you can criticise me later.  🙂

1. I see a meme developing that this was all part of the Prime Minister’s grand scheme.  The pro-AL story is that the PM was under pressure from the hardliners to nominate Osman, but she really wanted ivy.  Therefore, by strategically intervening to stop the hardliners from rigging the election, she ensured Ivy’s victory.  The anti-AL version is that
Osman is really a fall guy who demonstrates that AL can be trusted with an election — that is, don’t worry about the caretaker system, or the army.

I don’t believe either story.  I believe that Osman was a serious candidate who gave it everything he got, including the PM’s support, and failed miserably.

2. So why didn’t Osman resort to Bhola-style rigging?  

I believe two factors were at play.  First, the mainstream media — read: Prothom Alo / Daily Star and friends — decided to give all out support to Ivy, something that Maj Hafiz didn’t have.  In addition, the very important second factor is that Ivy did have a grass root organisation, which was active on the election day against any possible heavy handedness. 

As a result, the AL high command must have realised that serious force will backfire, and a smooth election was allowed. 

The lesson I take from all the elections under AL (and indeed under previous governments) is what Rumi bhai used to say five years ago: the best way to resist election rigging is for the opposition to participate with full force.  When we will inevitably hear BNP’s decision to boycott the next election, please keep this in mind.

3. This is a defeat for the Prime Minister.  She took the strategic decision to support Osman.  I don’t believe in the complicated conspiracy theory whereby she pulled of a genius strategic coup.  She supported Osman because not only did it make sense in terms of 2013, but also because Osman stood by her 30-35 years ago.  Our PM has a long memory.  And no matter how many wonderful photos of the PM and the newly elected mayor we see, I suspect the PM will not forigve Ivy for upstaging her plans.  Ivy will join Mahmudur Rahman Manna, Saber Hossain Chowdhury or Sultan Mansur Ahmed as AL outcastes. 

4. This is a huge defeat for BNP, despite the meme being pushed that BNP took a strategic decision to not legitmise the election.  The election was legitimised by 230,000 voters.  Questions about the EVM or biased commissioners or the absence of the army are completely being ignored.  Railing against the current Election Commission is pointless because these men will be gone in a few months.  If AL decides to pack the new EC with party hacks, what will BNP do?  Will we see BNP boycott every election until Hasina is forced to resign? 

5. And so what if BNP boycotts every election from now on?  Rumi bhai says BNP needs to discard ‘zombies‘ like Taimur Alam Khondoker.  If BNP is to junk the zombies, and the 1-11 turncoats, and the Hawa Bhaban cronies, and the people close to razakars and militants, then who will be left in BNP?  Rumi bhai says people like Ivy should be brought into BNP fold.  But if Selina Hayat Ivy (or other AL-ers, as in CCC) can provide alternative to AL, then why is BNP needed?  

AL is a de facto personality cult, and there is no prospect of reforming that side of politics.  If we are serious about qualitative improvement in Bangladeshi politics, it will have to happen on the anti-AL side.  If Mrs Zia is unwilling or incapable of doing so, and the only other alternative is army intervention, perhaps a new party of ex-AL-ers ought to be seriously considered.


Who will these ex-AL-ers be?  Let me quote Tacit:

Bangladesh is slowly undergoing a painful decentralization where young and ambitious mayors are building their own power base and challenging the more senior leaders in their parties. They are using their positions as mayor and chairman to build patronage networks, increase name recognition, and show the people of their area that they can deliver services and infrastructure projects. The ossification of student politics since the ’90s has temporarily stopped the inflow of student leaders into politics, and created a vacuum which is being exploited by businessmen and retired government officials. However, in the end, it is this generation of local government leaders who will make the transition and ultimately run national politics.

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4 Responses

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  1. Fugstar said, on November 1, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    another winner. alterity in the awami league. some cause for hope no?

  2. Rumi said, on November 3, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    Few points, Ivy needed an expansive grassroots to manage the election. She needed polling agents, get out the vote troops, vote riggers ( yes if you have a quiet friendly time in a polling station, just manage ten to 30 extra votes by seeing which vote has not been cast yet), All these came from Narayangan AL. They could work fearlessly for more than media factor. They were, after all, Awami league activists. How many heads on the neck the local police/ admin has to harass/ arrest an AL activist. Shamim not being in Narayanganj 7 of last ten years, had to depend more on his loyal family army and his brothers JP forces activists

    When the administration is die hard partisan, when police/ RAB’s job/ primary focus is to somehow harrass opposition activists, the opposition needs few more things to overcome that odds. Bhola election robbery had tacit support from sushil media, and full participation by a one year old strong political administration. As the government ages, it becomes more and more weak and unpopular to the media. So in a general election by a five years old government, when administration is uncertain who will be the boss next month, an organized political force should easily overcome the bias of a weak administration.

    I have a question to all, by going to Hasina, showing her allegiance to her, did Ivy betray the people who voted her? If people really wanted a pro Hasina candidate, why they would vote for someone other than Shamim?

    • jrahman said, on November 7, 2011 at 12:00 pm

      Rumi bhai, generally agree with your observations. Apropos partisanship of the administration, I suspect most of the mid-level bureaucrats and school teachers who actually run the election process would be quite sick of any incumbent by the end of a term. But a die-hard partisan election administrator could still make a difference with ” just manage ten to 30 extra votes by seeing which vote has not been cast yet” (or slowing down the voting if it looks like your side is not going well). To the extent that there is a group of hardcore AL supporters, do you think this could be a factor in 2013?

      Sheikh Hasina remains the democratically elected legitimate prime minister, and what’s wrong with the elected mayor of a city council showing her allegiance to the head of the national government? Ideally, even a BNP-nominated mayor would visit Hasina and seek her blessings (du’a) for ‘the betterment of the people’. Plus, there might be pragmatic reasons for Ivy’s actions too. NCC, like any other local government body, is thoroughly dependent on the central government.

      All that said, I suspect a lot remains to play out in Narayanganj (and elsewhere). Get your pop corn, this should be an interesting winter.

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