Vol. 5 Num 338 Wed. May 11, 2005  

CCC polls: Reflections on Mohiuddin's landslide victory

Mayor Mohiuddin has won a landslide victory for a third consecutive term as city father of Chittagong. He has increased his margin of victory from 17,000 in his second bidding in 2000 to a whopping 90,000 plus for his third consecutive term, which shows that he has actually gained in popularity, belying the trend of incumbency disadvantage in the Bangladeshi electoral culture.

My wife firmly believes people do not vote for a party or a person for second time consecutively as no one meets election pledges or the people's expectations. Based on results so far, she is nearly always right. But Mohiuddin Chowdhury disproves that theory and I feel happy that it has been proved wrong in the case of the mayoral election of Chittagong. Mayor Mohiuddin Chowdhury's three consecutive elections are eye openers that politics is still possible in Bangladesh if one lives close to the people.

Mohiuddin is not a high-profile politician or an angel by reputation. He is hardly known in intellectual circles, nor achieved excellence in any profession. He has been a full-time politician all his life, right from the days when I knew him as a student.

He comes from an eminent political family, but is not in the mainstream of its political inheritance. His modest connection is overshadowed and opposed by the mainstream political inheritors of his clan.

He is an Awami Leaguer, but is not exactly in favour with other stalwarts of the region. He could not be a favourite of the central leadership. He was the only voice that opposed publicly the decision of his party on the construction of the private container terminal alongside Chittagong Port on the estuary of the Karnafully River, and held it in suspended animation.

But the people of Metro-Chittagong did not give a landslide mandate for all these reasons. Let us see why they voted him in for a third consecutive term.

During the last ten years as city father, Mohiuddin has done a lot for the city. He has improved its road system, and established schools, collages, mosques, madrasas, and a university. In addition, health facilities, sanitation, and drainage have also improved considerably.

He is very respectful to the elders -- an old tradition of Chittagong.

He is not known to be deeply religious, yet hundreds of people go on Hajj every year: well organised and hugely subsidised by him. Mohiuddin's Hajj Kafela is the best organised and cheapest pilgrimage, usually preferred by those who cannot afford the exorbitant cost of Hajj.

Yet, he is also a man of the minorities.

He has good communications with all political parties and his door is open to all. He lives the simple life of an ordinary man. Many observers are not surprised that followers of other parties (if not totally hooked by party loyalty) also voted for him. One thing is sure; he has only one face and one position. He is not a minister or an MP. He hardly visits Dhaka and rarely goes to his village home in Raujan upazilla. Mohiuddin Chowdhury is always with the people of Chittagong.

In 1994, for the first time he defeated BNP appointed Mayor Mir Nasiruddin when the BNP was in power and had all the national assembly seats from Metro-Chittagong in the bag. Mir Nasir is a nice person and pleasant personality. He, too, takes pain to meet the people.

But having nearly a dozen national leaders from the area and more than half including himself as ministers, the demands of office and liaisoning with party and government is obviously a hectic exercise that takes most of his time, leaving little for the resident of Chittagong. Mir Nasir is more popular with non-resident Chittagonians in Dhaka and elsewhere. It is a comparative situation that gave the advantage to Mohiuddin.

Besides, Mohiuddin is a brilliant organiser and a master agitator. With no incumbency advantage and the Awami League demoralised, following defeat in national elections, Mohiuddin convinced the people of Chittagong in 1994 that he was the right man for the job. It was not so much due to the fact that the Awami League was in power, but for his closeness and services to the people that he was re-elected in 2000.

Unlike Khokon in Dhaka, Minister Mir Nasir failed to dislodge the "guy next door" Mayor Mohiuddin. Mohiuddin is not quite held in the high esteem of the legendary Nur Mohammad Chairman of British days. But when elderly people recall the services of Nur Mohammad Chairman, many demand that Mohiuddin be like him. Is Chittagong making another Nur Mohammad Chairman?

One of the major problems of our politics is that many of our leaders became powerful first, and almost reluctantly joined politics later, and not to serve the people. In democracy, public service runs contrary to the attitude of many successful politicians in Bangladesh today. If the "guy next door" has started winning elections, people's power is finally reaching back to them to the detriment of the non-resident and part-time politicians. In successive defeats of many national and international personalities, it is observed that everyday shaking hands and kissing babies has started taking a toll on the high-profile names.

It would be wrong for the Awami League to pride itself on the landslide victory of Mohiuddin, as the mandate was for the person and not the party. Political scientists and universities should make the mayoral election of Chittagong a case study as to how candidates can impress the average voters. The time has come to reverse the propensity of running to Harvard or Oxford to understand politics in Bangladesh. Let us swallow our pride and go to Chittagong for lessons for our future elections.

Congratulations to the electorate of Metro-Chittagong and good luck to Mayor Mohiuddin.