The defeat of Azmat Ullah Khan in Gazipur has made the Awami League sit up and take notice prompting the grand old party to devise cautious policies for the remaining four city polls mere months before the national election.
To ensure the victory of Boat in Barisal, Khulna, Rajshahi and Sylhet city corp polls and make it an event to boost morale of the grassroots, the party is working out strategy in line with the lessons of Gazipur polls.
There has been discussions within the party whether Thursday's debacle was a warning for the losing team as a seasoned politician like Azmat Ullah lost to Zaida Khatun, mother of former mayor Zahangir Alom.
The central AL is also carrying a post-mortem of local politics of the party alongside the election results as Zahangir, permanently expelled from the AL, reportedly secured support of a section of local party leaders and activists.
After the result was announced, Zahangir even said, "The Boat has won, the person has lost."
Though a central leader of the ruling party said Zaida Khatun has won the BNP-Jamaat vote, one of his party colleagues thinks otherwise. "A strong group from within the Awami League actually backed Zaida Khatun."
Talking to The Business Standard, a number of central and grassroots leaders said "another Awami League" has been born taking nourishment from the Awami League, which has been in power for 15 years.
A group of vested elements first entered the party and then strengthened their position by securing posts in the committees and became stronger day by day. Their number is increasing, they observed.
Defeat of boat 'huge embarrassment'
The party is now chalking out plans for the remaining four city elections considering those aspects, especially the local feuds that caused concerns among the central leaders. The defeat of Boat even after BNP's absence means huge embarrassment, the leaders added.
In this context, the AL Secretariat will hold a meeting with its Dhaka north and south city units and associate bodies at the party's Bangabandhu Avenue central office on Sunday.
The possible strategies for the next polls will be high on the agenda, according to a senior party leader.
Another central leader said a section of AL leaders in Gazipur worked for Zaida Khatun from behind the screen and many remained silent -- this may happen in Barisal and Sylhet.
He explained that nobody from the party is still openly speaking against Abul Khair Abdullah, the Boat's candidate in Barisal but a powerful faction loyal to his nephew Serniabat Sadiq Abdullah, also the immediate-past mayor, is clandestinely acting against him.
Also in Sylhet, a section of AL men went against Anwaruzzaman, a London expatriate, whom many local leaders could not accept as a mayoral nominee, considering him an outsider.
Asked what kind of plan the party has for Barisal and Sylhet, the senior leader said the party has already made a separate coordination committee, composed of central AL leaders, for the corporation elections of the remaining four cities.
Prime Minister and party president Sheikh Hasina herself is monitoring the situation in Barisal and Sylhet and consulting local leaders.
The party has listed those who may secretly or openly work against Boat and favour independents or rebels. They will be counselled and warned; disciplinary action will be taken if necessary.
Also, the leaders of various local units have been given instructions from the centre. Efforts are being made to ensure that local AL-backed councillor candidates work extensively for the mayoral picks.
AL sees big challenge
"The Awami League has taken the ongoing city corporation elections as a big challenge ahead of the upcoming national polls," Awami League's Joint General Secretary Mahabubul Alam Hanif told TBS.
"As part of that challenge, the party has worked out strategies in a way which will ensure the victory of the mayoral candidate.
Another central leader of the party said the Awami League has assumed that BNP will participate in the next general elections due to the new visa policy of the United States and the fair elections in Gazipur.
For this, the party is now careful enough to select MP candidates.
The leader said that the party has been in power for a long time and the local factional feuds have also increased. These "conflict areas" have been identified by the central committee.
Those who have tarnished the image of the party and the government -- such as some current lawmakers or those who are lobbying for nomination -- have been listed. The party will not nominate them in any way in the future.
The AL chief is very strict about these issues now and the nominations for the mayoral posts reflects that. Other top party leaders also feel that the city election nominations are a special message to the candidates for the upcoming national elections.
BNP assumed to join national polls
AL presidium member Matia Chowdhury said the BNP must participate in the early national election for the sake of its existence as a political party.
Also, all parties including the BNP have expressed satisfaction with the new visa policy that the United States has announced regarding the Bangladesh elections. That means it can be assumed that BNP is going to the polls."
She added, "The national election will be very competitive this time. In that light, the party will field comparatively qualified candidates… The party will not nominate those who have lost its trust."