Thursday, October 18, 2018

Awami League takes Khulna mayor office back from BNP

  • Masum Billah and Subir Roy, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2018-05-15 20:20:19 BdST

bdnews24
Awami League's Talukdar Abdul Khalek flashes the victory sign as initial results suggest he has won back the mayor’s post in Tuesday’s election to Khulna City Corporation.

The Awami League has won the Khulna City mayoral election with its candidate Talukdar Abdul Khalek taking an unassailable lead of 65,640 votes over the BNP’s Nazrul Islam Manju as per results coming from the Election Commission.

But Manju has alleged rigging and demanded cancellation of results at 100 centres.

Returning Officer Yunus Ali said in the wee hours of Wednesday at Sonadanga Divisional Women’s Sport Complex that he would not unofficially declare Khalek winner.

He told the media around 2:45am that postponement of voting at three of the 289 polling stations amid allegations of irregularities made them to not declare a winner.

Yunus also said the EC would declare the unofficial winner later, but did not specify the time and date.

According to him, Khalek with polls logo boat drew 1,74,891 votes while his nearest rival Manju with paddy sheaf symbol bagged 109,251 ballots.

The three centres where voting was postponed have around 5,000 voters.

The BNP alleged the ruling party supporters stuffed the ballot boxes with fake votes and beat up their rivals.

But the Awami League said the BNP was “out to mar the election through falsification because it knows it is losing”.

The Election Commission is pleased with the election with no large-scale violence reported.

Returning Officer Yunus said the turnout was 61.19 percent. The voting in the city with around half a million voters was held from 8am to 4pm.

There are 31 wards for general councillors and 10 reserved for women in Khulna City.

Five candidates gunned for the mayor’s office, 148 for general councillor and 39 for women councillor posts.

The other mayor candidates were SM Shafiqur Rahman Mushfique of the Jatiya Party, Mizanur Rahman Babu of the CPB and Muzammil Haque of the Islami Andolan.

Nazrul Islam Manju

Nazrul Islam Manju

Manju said, “People from the Awami League, Juba League and Chhatra League took control of different election centres and stuffed the ballot boxes with fake votes. The number of such centres is no less than 100.”

“Re-election has to be held in those centres after cancellation of the results.”

He also said he was ‘unhappy’ at the elections. “I can’t accept this election. And the political crisis in Bangladesh will only deepen through this voting, and it will fan our fears.”

As he was speaking to the media in front of the party office on KD Ghosh Road, Khalek’s supporters were celebrating.

Khalek told reporters at the control room that he wanted Manju by his side to work for the city’s development if he could wrestle the mayor’s office back from the BNP.

“He (Manju) is like a younger brother to me. We worked together in many movements for the city’s development,” Khalek said.

The Awami League candidate lost the last mayoral election held in 2013 to the BNP’s Moniruzzaman Monir and later was elected to parliament from Bagerhat. He resigned as MP to fight the local government polls.

The BNP ditched Monir this time for his alleged inaction.

Talukdar Abdul Khalek shows a ballot paper before casting his vote. Photo: Mostafigur Rahman

Talukdar Abdul Khalek shows a ballot paper before casting his vote. Photo: Mostafigur Rahman

Khalek said he would check the progress of the development work he had left during the end of his term as mayor five years ago.

“I’ll investigate whether there was any corruption. Besides this, I will resume the work I had left off,” he said.

But he dismissed Manju's allegation of rigging.

“They have been making such allegations from the beginning. I don’t see anything significant in those, complaints” he said.

He also thanked the party activists for working for him during the campaign.

“And I am in debt to the people of Khulna. I will repay their trust by working for them,” the Awami League candidate added.

In Dhaka, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir demanded reformation of the EC for its ‘failure to hold fair polls in Khulna’.

“The situation in Khulna polls would not have been what it is if the army was deployed,” he said at a news conference at the party headquarters later in the night.

“There are defeats and victories in elections. But barring your rival from contesting the election (fairly), driving his agents out of polling stations cannot be called election,” he said.

BNP candidate's pavilion outside a centre was vandalised.

BNP candidate's pavilion outside a centre was vandalised.

Mirza Fakhrul said the EC was ‘incapable of working neutrally’. “All elections will be meaningless if the EC is not overhauled completely.”

The BNP previously won some local government elections, despite alleging partiality by the EC and local administrations.

It was also hopeful of retaining the mayor’s office in Khulna and threw in former MP Manju.

“We have strong organisation in Khulna. Our candidate won the last election by a huge margin. Nazrul Islam Manju was elected MP several times consecutively.

“And this time they (Awami League) did not even let us stand there. Police attacked us. All these happened due to the EC’s failure,” the BNP secretary general said.

He also showed some video footages aired by different TV stations and alleged the government controlled the media.

A general view of a polling station in Khulna City during Tuesday’s voting. Photo: Mostafigur Rahman

A general view of a polling station in Khulna City during Tuesday’s voting. Photo: Mostafigur Rahman

Election observers are also ‘a little frustrated’. They say the Khulna city polls were “almost fair and acceptable but not as much as the recent elections to Comilla and Rangpur cities”.

Election Working Group Director Abdul Alim told bdnews24.com: “There were some irregularities in Khulna, but not enough to influence the final results.”

He said the people’s expectation from the KM Nurul Huda-led EC rose after the Rangpur city polls on Dec 21 last year.

“The success the Election Commission achieved in Rangpur should have been continued. Everyone is a little frustrated as it has not happened,” Alim said. 

The opposition Jatiya Party’s candidate won the Rangpur mayoral election while the BNP aspirant became mayor of Cumilla City in the Mar 30 polls.

Fair Election Monitoring Alliance President Munira Khan said, “We saw worse elections before (than in Khulna)…The polls in Khulna were fair and acceptable on the whole.”  

She added the EC would have to do more to increase its efficiency.

A voter uses an electronic voting machine to cast his ballot in Khulna City Corporation on Tuesday. EVMs were used in two polling stations in the polls. Photo: Mostafigur Rahman

A voter uses an electronic voting machine to cast his ballot in Khulna City Corporation on Tuesday. EVMs were used in two polling stations in the polls. Photo: Mostafigur Rahman

The EC has Gazipur, Sylhet, Rajshahi and Barishal city corporation elections to hold before the general election in December this year. 

EC Secretary Helal Uddin Ahmed said after the voting ended that the commission was happy with ‘what it could do in Khulna’.

“The election environment was festive and nice there,” he said.