After a gloomy day, river port township Narayanganj woke up to sunshine and a poll festivity on Sunday morning.
Clad in a green and red saree, Awami League mayoral candidate in Narayanganj City Corporation (NCC) election Selina Hayat Ivy earlier in the morning said her victory was almost certain if the voting was fair. She turned out to be right in the evening as Ivy secured a third consecutive victory, breaking all the previous records of the country's city corporation polls.
The Election Commission published data of all 192 centres by 11pm Sunday. Ivy bagged 1,59,097 votes while her main rival and an independent candidate Taimur Alam Khandaker got 92,166 votes.
However, Ivy's campaign with data obtained from their polling agents started the celebration in the evening. Subsequently, the ruling party candidate addressed a media briefing on her return to office for the next five years.
Narayanganj, once dubbed as Dundee of the East, has around 5.17 lakh votes. Yesterday's voter turnout was 50%, according to Election Commission Secretary Humayun Kabir Khandaker. The turnout is remarkably low compared to 62% in 2016 and 70% in 2011 Narayanganj city polls.
In instant reaction, Ivy said, "People have elected me again to help complete the unfinished development works. This victory depicts what Narayanganj people believe in."
"I will continue working for people regardless of their political identities. I will try my best to fulfill the election pledges and talk to Taimur kaka [Taimur uncle] whether we can work on promises he made to voters," she told journalists.
Taimur, a BNP leader who was relieved of BNP posts for contesting the election defying party decision, claimed he lost due to electoral fraud by the administration and faulty EVMs.
"I do not consider this defeat as a big deal. I thank the people and the media for supporting me throughout the campaign," he added.
Ivy magic in the NCC polls had several X factors, including her clean image, dubious role of the local Awami League lawmaker Shamim Osman during the poll campaign and the Awami League candidate's disciplined execution of a well thought out electioneering, according to political analysts.
Ivy, a daughter of former Narayanganj Municipality Mayor Ali Ahmed Chunka, won in 2011 and 2016 NCC elections with victory margins over 1 lakh and 79,000 votes respectively.
In 2011, she handed a humiliating defeat to Awami League candidate and influential local leader Shamim Osman, while BNP's Shakhawat Hossain Khan got defeated to Ivy in 2016.
What made the Narayanganj polls exceptional this time are the congenial run up atmosphere for more than two weeks to the voting day, upbeat voters, their enthusiastic turnout, festivity and tight security measures leading to a peaceful voting – unlike elections held in the last couple of years.
As Sunday's NCC polls emerged as a stellar example of a free and fair poll, the role of the Election Commission and the local administration for a fair poll came to the limelight. From weeks-long campaigning to the voting day, neither Ivy nor Taimur came up with serious complaints and poll irregularities as the Election Commission (EC) termed the voting "free, and fair".
Narayanganj cultural activist Rafiur Rabbi said Narayanganj got a fair election due to the tolerant attitude of the candidates, their confidence in people and strict monitoring of the administration.
Yesterday's peaceful voting falls in line with Narayanganj's legacy of peaceful voting in 2016 and 2011, noting so, Sushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Sujan) Narayanganj General Secretary Dhiman Saha Jewel said, "All credit goes to Narayanganj people and Ivy. She did not misuse power even after being the ruling party candidate."
On condition of anonymity, a special branch official during his poll-duty yesterday told The Business Standard, "We had clear instructions from the high-ups that the election must be fear and violence free. Now you see how genuinely we obeyed the orders."
Election Commissioner Mahbub Talukdar, who visited four centres yesterday, said they got their hopes up centering the NCC polls – the last one under the current EC – as he said, "all well that ends well."
Even the election commissioner, who grabbed the headlines several times for criticising EC's inaction to contain poll violence, also said the NCC election was the best compared to polls in the last five years.
Ivy's old X factors, plus new ones
Clean image, personal charisma and strong position against local criminalisation helped Ivy win previous two polls. Her bold stance against local lawmaker Shamim Osman as well as the influential Osman family added a new equation to Narayanganj politics that played a key role in previous two polls.
These factors were at play this time too.
Born in 1966, Ivy did her graduation in the once communist-led Soviet Union. She did her internship from Sir Salimullah Medical College in Dhaka, and served the medical college hospital and Narayanganj hospital as a physician for several years.
Like her father Chunka, Ivy is close to the downtrodden sections of society, especially the elderly citizens and women, who yesterday honoured her with a landslide victory.
"It doesn't matter what symbol belongs to Ivy apa. I have come to vote for her as I appreciate her courage," Jaynab Begum, a 47-year-old woman, told TBS at a centre.
Other women at the queues joined the chorus by saying they appreciate Ivy for fighting the mayoral race even after internal party rivalry.
Voters this time also took note of her development works in two previous stints, and the city corporation's measures to contain the Covid waves in the city that was an infection red zone.
Rafiur Rabbi said ruling party candidate Ivy demonstrated her strong confidence in people throughout the campaign, and she repeatedly said she would accept whatever result comes in a peaceful election. Voters ultimately honoured the confidence and her trust in a peaceful voting.
Ivy's disciplined campaigners were at every voting centre yesterday, helping voters cast their ballots peacefully and maintain a peaceful polling atmosphere. This could have wooed up the voters further.
Narayanganj shows the way
Bangladesh logged 113 deaths in five phases of union parishad polls last year. The elections were largely marred by boycotts, low voter turnouts and rigging allegations, while there has been a growing concern over the next Bangladeshi general election slated for December 2023 or early 2024.
Against such a backdrop, Narayanganj polls appeared to be an exception, and an example to follow.
During the electioneering, the mayoral candidates did not engage in the mudslinging. They refrained from spitting venom on each other by attacking each other's character. Ivy and Taimur were determined, but not desperate for victory, said political analysts.
Plus the local admin and law enforcers took the poll seriously.
Jahed Parvez Chowdhury, additional superintendent of Narayanganj District Police, told TBS that police took it as a challenge to retain the voters who lost interest in voting thanks to widespread violence in recent union parishad elections.
"We tried our best so that the voters' fragile confidence does not split further, and the efforts eventually resulted in the peaceful voting," he added.
At a press conference in EC building in Dhaka on Sunday evening, EC Secretary Humayun Kabir Khandaker said voters at some Narayanganj centres were allowed to cast the ballots even after the voting ended at 4pm since there were some EVM issues.
"Voters who came to the centres were able to cast their votes. None was turned away even in case of EVM glitches," he noted.
Sujan Narayanganj General Secretary Dhiman Saha Jewel said he expects the next general election to be as peaceful as Narayanganj was.