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NCC: An unprecedented hattrick, or the mother of all upsets?

After monopolising airwaves, airtime, social media, column inches, and all manner of political discourse up and down the country for the better part of the last three weeks, the much-anticipated Narayanganj City Corporation election is all set to be held on Sunday. The official electioneering period ended at midnight Friday.

In less than 12 hours, Narayanganj, and its electorate numbering 517,357 voters – including 257,519 females, will go to the polls to elect a mayor for only the third time, and most indications are that as on both previous occasions, they will choose once again to side with Dr Selina Hayat Ivy.

In the history of independent Bangladesh, there is no precedent of a three-time mayor for any city corporation – small or big, old or new. Previously only the divisional headquarters were served by their own city corporations. Today, there are 12 city corporations spread across the country, including two to serve the administratively bifurcated capital. None of them has elected the same person as mayor thrice.

So although seven candidates are running for the post of the NCC mayor this time, it is no surprise that Ivy, standing for the second time as the ruling party nominee and standing on the verge of history, has been the centre of attention throughout the campaign.

Her only opponent of note is thought to be Advocate Taimur Alam Khandaker, a veteran BNP leader in the area who is fighting as an independent candidate. Although his party had to drop him from the post of chairperson’s adviser for throwing his hat in the ring for a race the BNP is boycotting (as they have done with all elections under the present Election Commission, after the 2018 GE), this is likely to be a temporary removal, and notably there is no move to isolate him. His principal public lieutenants are mostly the BNP’s post-holders in Narayanganj.

On the other hand, local supporters of BNP are working for Taimur despite the revoking of his party post, and along with them, local supporters of the Jatiya Party are also campaigning for Taimur whose presence is strengthened with the support of some Islamic groups as well. According to media reports, local followers of Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh are also campaigning for Taimur.

Adding to the intrigue is Ivy’s very public and long-running spat with Shamim Osman MP, dating back to the first NCC election in 2011, when running as an independent ‘rebel’ candidate, she defeated AL-nominated Osman by over 1 lakh votes.

It was a stunning, some would say memorable result. With Osman taking the opportunity to become one of the ‘unopposed 154’ MPs returned by the infamous January 5, 2014 election, a direct rematch between the two has never materialised. That has never convinced anyone that Osman had stopped trying to avenge that defeat in one way or another.

When Ivy was up for reelection in 2016, he sought to deny her the AL nomination by backing a rival candidate, but the party’s central command defied the recommendation of its Narayanganj unit – with which Shamim held great influence- to back the popular incumbent. If anything, that was another cruel blow for Osman, who like to boast that the that today’s Awami League was founded in the house he grew up in. It would have made him even more thirsty to seek out a way to turn the tables on her.

The 175,000 votes Ivy won in 2016 was around 5,000 fewer than she won in 2011. Her margin of victory, against BNP candidate Sakhawat Hossain, also came down to around 80,000, from the over 100,000 (1 lakh) margin she enjoyed in 2011 against Osman.

Still, the margin was such that it is difficult to see it overturned in the space of just one election cycle. And so Ivy remains the overwhelming favourite to complete her hattrick Sunday.

Shamim Osman’s reputation in Narayanganj means people always find it hard to believe his will can be defied – yet Ivy has proven over and over again that it can be. As soon as the elections were announced, speculation started over what role Osman would play. This time around, he didn’t oppose her nomination by AL – or rather, he sought no intervention in the party forum.

But then Ivy threw down the bombshell that Taimur Alam Khandaker was none other than the Osman family’s candidate for the election, controlled by Shamim and his elder brother, BKMEA president and Jatiya Party politician Selim Osman. As proof she pointed at 4 Jatiya Party UP chairmen campaigning actively for Taimur.

Then came reports that a committee of Narayanganj Chhatra League, the Awami League student wing, had to be dissolved as they were due to join Ivy’s campaign. Habibur Rahman Ryad, president of the committee, said to the media that they were advised by the local administration to work sincerely for Ivy. He also claimed that the law enforcers went to the houses of some Chhatra League leaders.

Incidents such as this, allied to Ivy’s claims, clearly ruffled feathers within the AL high command, who made it known that if there was any truth found to the assertions, Shamim Osman would be disciplined within the party structure. A high-powered team led by Jahangir Kabir Nanak was activated to find out and if found, root out any discord that may affect the AL candidate’s election result negatively. Once again, it seems Ivy had turned the tables on Shamim, by sniffing out and foiling his conspiracy this time.

With six days to go to the election, Shamim Osman was forced to come out and clarify his stance and reaffirm his support for AL in the election through a press conference. But he pointedly never took Ivy’s name, and repeatedly tried to downplay the election as that of a small, unimportant city corporation, with far fewer voters than his constituency in parliament.

Except as a man bred in politics through and through, Shamim Osman will know the far greater credibility that attaches to the NCC election, relative to the two elections in 2014 and 2018 that returned him as an MP. And if Ivy completes a historic hattrick tomorrow, Osman can be expected to toe the line on welcoming her victory, but you can never really imagine him truly happy.

Source: United News of Bangladesh