Hearts and Minds
Future leaders must take note of the reasons that led to
Mohiuddin Chowdhury's downfall
Last week's Chittagong City Corporation (CCC) elections result has come as shocking for those who have missed the writings on the wall for a long time. Even though ABM Mohiuddin Chowdhury, the Awami League backed mayoral candidate, still wields some support among the masses, ordinary Chittagonians have wanted change and the urge to see a new face in the Nagar Bhaban in Andarkilla has prompted them to vote for Bangladesh Nationalist Party-supported mayor hopeful Manjurul Alam Manju.
In his 17 years as the commercial capital's Mayor, Mohiuddin had courted controversy. His infatuation with shopping malls had witnessed a flurry of CCC-owned shopping centres built across the city, but it has come at a heavy price. Playgrounds were destroyed, and while the CCC had become self-reliant, the citizens bore the brunt.
The latest in this episode took place three years ago when the beleaguered Mayor planned to raze Aparnacharan Girls' School down to build a shopping centre in the school. Faced with a popular movement against his decision, especially the one led by Binod Bihari, who opposed the plan, as Pritilota Waddadar of Chittagong Uprising was a teacher in the school, Mohiuddin called Bihari a fake revolutionary. Hindus in the city revere Bihari and they took it as an insult on the community. In the June 17 elections, many of the 10 percent Hindu voters of Chittagong did not vote, and those who did vote for 'ship', Mohiuddin's election symbol, voted grudgingly.
The young and first-time voters found Mohiuddin's old rhetoric difficult to decipher. Manjur with his clean image, on the other hand, had been successful in reaching out to the youth, who desperately wanted to see a change take place in the country's second largest city.
To make matters worse for Mohiuddin, city Awami League had been ridden with factionalism. The fight between Mohiuddin and AL MP Nurul Islam BSC had left the party in Chittagong dangerously divided and even though Sheikh Hasina, prime minister and leader of the AL, had repeatedly tried to bridge the gap, the division had left its mark on the polls.
The Bangladesh Nationalist party, on the other hand, was successful in leaving the internal feuds of the party behind, and, amazingly enough, in the run up to the elections all the four major factions and their leaders had worked unitedly for Manjur's victory. In his three terms in office, Mohiuddin had failed to solve the problems of water logging in the city and incessant rain three days before the elections reminded the voters of some of the false promises that the former Mayor had made.
The CCC elections represent the wish of the citizens of Chittagong for change. Besides the long unresolved issues of water logging and a scarcity of gas and water, anti-incumbency factor has also played a decisive role to oust Mohiuddin from the helm.
However, the people of Chittagong deserve kudos for presenting the nation with a fair and free election, and both the major candidates need to be thanked for following the electoral rules diligently. On top of it all, Jesmin Tuli, the returning officer, and her team have conducted the polls in an exemplary manner, something future election officials can follow closely.
The biggest lesson to be learnt is for the Awami League leadership. The AL, 16 months into its tenure, has won a by-poll in Bhola and has lost in Bogra by-poll and the CCC elections. Even though city corporation elections are non-partisan in nature, the AL leadership has a lot of soul searching to do. In the last one and a half months, the government has to take a lot of unpopular decisions and Chittagonians have been at the receiving end of some of them. The elections result has shown that the people of Chittagong are unhappy and it is time the AL takes some initiatives to make them feel otherwise.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010