Awami League is campaigning but BNP’s electioneering has lulled since its candidate was attacked in mid-December
Though long established as a BNP stronghold, locals from Noakhali 1 constituency are expecting a tough contest between BNP and other parties in the December 30 polls.
BNP secured the seat in four prior parliamentary elections, in: 1991, 1996, 2001, and 2008.
Meanwhile, since the country’s independence, ruling party Awami League only managed to clinch victory twice; once in 1973 and then in 2014 after the major opposition parties boycotted the polls.
Noakhali 1 constituency comprises Chatkhil upazila and all but three unions of Sonaimuri upazila.
Eight contestants are fighting to win this time around: AM Mahbub Uddin Khokon using BNP's sheaf of paddy symbol, HM Ibrahim using Awami League's boat symbol, AKM Erfan Khan of Islami Andolon Bangladesh using the hand fan symbol, Abu Naser Wahid Faruk using Jatiya party’s plough symbol, Omar Faruk of Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh using the winnowing fan (kula) symbol, Ziaul Haque using the banyan tree symbol of Bangladesh Khilafat Andolon, Shah Alam of Islamic Front Bangladesh using the chair symbol, and independent candidate Borhan Uddin using the apple symbol.
HM Ibrahim has held the seat since 2014, but AM Mahbub Uddin Khokon was elected an MP in 2008 election.
BNP to win election if fair election held, locals claim
From 1991 to 2008, BNP held a 100% record of wins in the Noakhali 1 constituency. In all the elections held during this period, BNP's closest rival was Awami League.
Zahirul Alam—a primary school teacher and a resident of Nanda union under Chatkhil upazila—said Awami League needs to stay in power for a third time, to continue the pace of development.
"People have reacted positively to Awami League in the last few years, as the ruling party has undertaken huge amounts of development work in the area," he said.
Meanwhile, advocate Mir Mosharraf Hossain, from Deoti union under the same upazila, said, historically, BNP has always been popular in the region.
"If a fair election is held, dedicated supporters of BNP will always vote for the party," he said.
A BNP activist claimed that Awami League only got to power in the 2014 election because BNP boycotted the election.
"The people of Noakhali 1 constituency have always supportd BNP whole-heartedly," he said. "Our party will win this election."
Concurrently, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Assistant Private Secretary Jahangir Alam, also a member of the Noakhali Awami League, said the ruling party has worked for the betterment of the people of Chatkhil and Sonaimuri upazilas during its term.
"People want to see us in power again," he added. "I am very optimistic our party will win the election once again."
AL active, other parties’ campaigns quiet
The Awami League is far ahead of the other parties—especially BNP—with their election campaign.
Inhabitant of Dighirpar area, in Chatkhil upazila, Abul Kamal, told the Dhaka Tribune that the BNP candidate and his supporters had actively campaigned from late November to mid-December.
However, they become inactive after Mahbub Uddin Khokon was attacked during his campaign on December 15.
"Ever since, it is rare to see BNP campaigning in this area," he said.
Aside from the Awami League posters dotting the upazilas, a few posters of Islami Andolon Bangladesh are visible. Other parties' posters are notably absent.
Nizam Uddin, a shopkeeper from Pallabazar area of Chatkhil upazila, said Awami League has been regularly campaigning.
"In the first few days, BNP candidate Mahbub Uddin Khokhon and Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh candidate, Omar Faruk, were actively campaigning in the field," he said. "But now, except for Awami League, all other parties have become quiet."
BNP candidate and Joint Secretary General Mahbub Uddin Khokon told the Dhaka Tribune: "We expect to win this time around if a fair election is held, as we have a huge follower base in this region.
"However, it is becoming hard to believe a free and fair election will be held," he said. "The police, under the direction of Awami League cadres, carry out attacks on us whenever we venture out to campaign."
He said despite BNP's active presence in the election field, in the beginning of this month, it has become extremely tough for them to even hang a single poster—let alone hold rallies.
"I am hopeful that despite the ruling party's oppression, the people will vote for us in the end," he said.