Zahangir Alam, a popular politician expelled by the Awami League, has delivered a major upset to the ruling party by propelling his unfancied mother Jayeda Khaton to the office of mayor of Gazipur, its traditional stronghold in the general election only six months away.
His supporter base did just enough to hand the 61-year-old 'self-educated' widow a slim win by 16,203 votes, potentially reviving the political career of her beleaguered son and ending the electoral future of her nearest rival, the ruling party favourite Azmat Ullah Khan, who had been mayor of the erstwhile Tongi municipality for 18 years.
Jayeda, who ran in the place of Zahangir after his candidacy was declared invalid, secured a total of 238,934 votes with the table clock symbol, unofficial results from all 480 centres showed at 1:45am on Friday after daylong voting through electronic machines on Thursday.
Azmat got 222,737 votes with the ruling party’s boat symbol.
Third-placed Gazi Ataur Rahman of Islami Andolan won 45,352 votes.
Sarker Shahnoor Islam Rony, a BNP supporter who joined the race despite the party’s decision to avoid elections under the Awami League government, bagged 23,265 votes.
Officials predicted an over 50 percent turnout as the queues in most of the polling stations were long without any major incident reported.
The turnout, however, was 48.79 percent in the final count.
‘AWAMI LEAGUE HAS WON’
In his immediate reaction after his mother’s victory, Zahangir thanked Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and sought everyone’s support to work for Gazipur. “I want to make it a Smart City,” he said.
Without naming Azmat, he said the Awami League “came out victorious but the individual lost”.
“This Gazipur City Corporation election was a do-or-die race for me. My mother told me that she can’t sit idle after I faced injustice. She wanted to save me from falsehood and she has done it.
“My mother has won against the person who caused harm to me.”
Zahangir added that he was not angry at Azmat and would seek his help to work for the city.
The supporters of both Jayeda and Azmat gathered outside Bangataz Auditorium, from where the returning officer was announcing the results.
Many of them scaled the boundary wall and got into the premises of the auditorium. The law enforcers then forced them to the opposite side of the street.
Both sides were cheering their leaders, but with Jayeda maintaining her lead, the celebrations were more enthusiastic among her supporters.
“We’re cent percent hopeful about a victory. Gazipur experienced unprecedented development during Zahangir Bhai’s tenure. We hope his mother will be elected and continue the trend of development,” said college student Anis Ali Molla, a supporter of Jayeda.
Azmat’s supporters did not give up hope. One of them, Nayeem Islam, said: “We may be trailing by some votes, but the results from many centres are yet to come. So we’re not giving up hope for a win.”
But finally Jayeda came out triumphant. After she was declared winner, her supporter Humyun Kabir said, “The election was free and fair under the Awami League government. Everyone voted for the candidate of their choice. People rewarded Zahangir Alam for his works during his two terms by voting for her mother.”
Asaduzzaman, a spokesperson for Gazipur Metropolitan Police, said they took precautionary measures to prevent any untoward situation centring the results.
LARGELY PEACEFUL VOTE
An election reportedly mired by glitches in the electronic voting machines, which in turn slowed down the voting process, was expected to be highly contested between Jayeda, an independent who unexpectedly came to the political forefront after her son, Zahangir, the controversial previous mayor of the city who had not been picked by the party to run again, made it his mission to send a message to the Awami League establishment who trashed him before the election.
The mayor-elect Jayeda, on her campaign trail, already made it clear that Zahangir will be running the cogs in the city hall, which will make the former mayor the de-facto mayor-elect.
The Gazipur city polls were also the first among the five high-profile city elections before the general elections, slated to be held early next year, and the management of the electioneering in these polls by the Kazi Habibul Awal-led Election Commission will determine whether they are capable of running a more extensive show like parliamentary polls.
About 1.17 million people were expected to vote in the city election, a closely watched race, especially after the US State Department’s latest warning of issuing visa restrictions to people and their family members attempting to undermine elections in Bangladesh.
After the polls were closed, Election Commissioner Md Alamgir said they were satisfied with how the election was held in Gazipur City Corporation.
"The election was held in a free, fair and peaceful manner, and it was acceptable to all candidates," he said while briefing reporters at the Election Commission office in Dhaka's Agargaon.
Although the voting ended with no reports of violence, Zahangir alleged a conspiracy to rig the vote by delaying the results in the polls.
Speaking to reporters in the evening, he claimed unofficial exit polls conducted by his supporters showed Jayeda won the election with the table clock symbol.
He alleged that a fictitious “third party” would attempt to subterfuge the actual result.
“A third party, an individual, will try to rig the vote,” he added, demanding copies of printed results from the electronic voting machines instead of hand-written ones.
“My mother said she will save this city. Truth has prevailed, and falsehood has been destroyed.”
Meanwhile, After the voting closed, Azmat said people cast their ballots in a ‘festive atmosphere’. He was optimistic about winning the race.
Jayeda also praised the voting atmosphere.
People thronged some centres long before the voting opened. As the day progressed, there were some reports of agents being forced out of centres, unwanted people in voting rooms, CCTV cameras breaking down, and EVMs going slow at some centres.
The commission said it took steps to resolve the technical and disciplinary issues swiftly.
At least two people were arrested after they were seen interfering with voting in the secret room through CCTV monitoring, but there were no instances of voters being forced or influenced.
Along with electing the new mayor, the third Gazipur city poll also determined 57 councillors and 19 women councillors for reserved seats. More than 330 candidates contested for the general and reserved councillor seats.
[Infographic prepared by Adil Mahmood]