8938Published on May 17, 2018
On 15 May 2018, voters of Khulna City Corporation area went to polls to elect their mayor for the next 5 years. The next day the official results showed that the Awami League candidate Talukder Abdul Khaleque won big securing 174,851 votes, trailed by his rival from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Nazrul Islam Monju who won 109,251 votes. There were allegations of irregularities in some centers, as a result of which voting was suspended by the Election Commission (EC) in 3 of the 289 total polling stations. This means, around 1% of centers were affected by allegations, with 5,831 votes in total between them. According to the EC, the voter turnout in this election was 62.19%, which is slightly lower than the average voter turnout in Bangladeshi local government elections.
The difference of votes won between the two main candidates is quite significant at 66,000. In total, Khulna CC area has 493,093 registered voters, of which, 306,636 voters exercised their franchised. 6,565 cast votes were cancelled by the Returning Officer (RO) of the election. Hence, 300,071 votes were taken into account in deciding the outcome. The winning candidate therefore, won 58.26% of the votes cast and counted as valid. On the other hand, the BNP candidate won 36.4% of the votes cast and counted as valid.
Given the huge difference between the votes won by the two main candidates, and the negligible percentage of voting centers (and the votes contained within them) apparently affected by alleged irregularities, it is quite clear that even the absence of any issues would not have made any practical difference to the outcome of the result. This has been confirmed by one of the largest groups of independent election observers the Election Working Group (EWG). In their post-Khula CC election press conference, the EWG stated though there were irregularities in some of the polling stations, the incidents were sporadic and not so substantial that could have reversed the results (See: https://goo.gl/ZLzuE1).
Despite the facts and statistics, the BNP candidate and his party have rejected the results citing ‘widespread irregularities’. This is unsurprising given that this has been favoured tactic employed by BNP for quite some time. This entails coordinated complaining about the voting process from the start of voting, keeping their statements ambiguous throughout the day, and then accept or reject results depending on whether their candidate has won or not. This election was no exception. BNP started complaining from the morning of the voting day, in the afternoon they said they will comment upon completion of process, and when indications started to come in that their candidate is lagging behind substantially, started questioning the process again and ultimately rejected the result.
However, it is interesting that BNP has not rejected the results of the wins of their councilors, the voting for whom took place along with the mayor election. Among the 38 wards with results announced, Awami League candidates have won in 18 while BNP candidates won in 9. Of the 30 general wards, Awami League candidates won in 12 while BNP won in 9 seats. Awami League also won 6 reserved councilor seats for women. BNP did not win any of the female reserved ones. Voting was cancelled in 1 general ward and results have been suspended in 2 female wards.
In reality, the win of the Awami League candidate Talukder Abdul Khaleque was expected due to his relatively clean image among the candidates. During his previous tenure as the Mayor of Khulna CC, he was renowned for being a man of the people with integrity and honesty. The fact that Awami League was able to mend all differences between the different units of the party in Khulna helped as well. United party machinery behind a clean and proven candidate did the trick for Awami League. It is thought that disunity among the party factions was the principal factor behind the loss of Khaleque in 2013 to the BNP candidate Monju. The development of the Awami League was also featured prominently in the electoral campaign of Awami League, which resonated with the voters.
On the other hand, BNP, in the last 5 years, had garnered a negative reputation among the electorate as the former mayor failed to keep his last electoral pledges. Disunity among different factions of BNP, and general relative unpopularity of the party also played a role in Monju's defeat. Voters in Khulna apparently also saw the heavy involvement of Jamaat leaders in BNP’s campaign as negative. In fact, Monju’s position in Khulna is so unpopular and untenable that he even lost in his own ward, where he is based. In this center, the total number of voters was 1,426, of which Khaleque received 529 and Monju came second with 410 votes. Even BNP itself did not raise any issue with the situation in this center.
The results also will not come as a surprise if the surveys on the relative popularity of the main parties in Bangladesh are analyzed. All recent public opinion polls by such independent international organizations such as Democracy International (DI) and International Republican Institute (IRI) show that Awami League fares consistently well in terms of its popularity over BNP. The same rings true for the popularity of the Honorable Prime Minister and Awami League Chief Sheikh Hasina over her rival, the BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia. According to a recent series of focus group discussions by the IRI, Awami League is seen positively by more people in Bangladesh than BNP due to the association of the party with the country’s founding history and current development successes (https://goo.gl/EHjHXa).