What does Narayanganj elections mean for politics?
Selina Hayat Ivy has swept to power again and various commentators are saying it's a victory for the AL, partial victory for the BNP, and victory for the "development wave" of Hasina etc. All are partly true but it's fundamentally a victory for Ivy whose personal status and popularity seems to override political identity. But does the overall scenario reflect a national scenario or is Narayanganj a unique one and its results and trends do not apply to the rest of Bangladesh?
Let us look at the numbers of the 2016 and 2011 elections. Here is a simple comparative data sheet.
Narayanganj election results 2016
Total votes cast; 287,153
Ivy/ AL; 175611 - 61%
Shakhawat/ BNP - 96044 - 33% =
Total vote share of AL and BNP is 94 %
Islami Andolon - 4.8 %
Islami 0ikka Jote -0 .31`%
Biplobi Workers Party - 674 -0 .23 % = 6 %
94 + 6= 100 % of votes cast
Narayanganj election results 2011
Total Votes cast = 276329
Selina Hayat Ivy - 180,048 votes 65%
Shamim Osman/AL - 78,705 votes - 28% = 93 %
(BNP) Taimur Alam Khandker 7,616 votes - 2.7 %
Atiqur Rahman Nannu Munshi 6,612 votes, 2.3%
Sharif Mohammed 1,493 - 0.54%
Atikul Islam Jibon - 1,855- 0.67 = 7%
93% and 7% = 100% votes
In both elections the top two candidates got 93 per cent or more votes. Selina Hayat Ivy got 4 per cent less votes in 2016 compared to 2011 which was a fight between AL and an AL rebel. BNP withdrew at the last moment in 2011 and got 2.7 per cent but in 2016, its share was 33 per cent, making it a political player no matter how weak its party machine.
Shamim Osman was not a factor in 2011 and lost to Ivy by a margin of 37 per cent, a serious thumb down on the Osman political family by the voters. So AL got the message and went for Ivy. Osman and Taimur in 2011 got 30.7 per cent votes but BNP did better alone in 2016 getting 33 per cent. BNP got 33 per cent-28 per cent = 5 per cent more than what Osman got in 2011. Ivy's popularity declined slightly but not significantly but she did get 4 per cent less votes in 2016 compared to 2011. "Islamic "votes in 2016 is 5.11 per cent. Leftist vote is 0.23 per cent. This is also the national scenario in general.
Did voting patterns change?
In 2011, Ivy got 65 per cent and this year she got 61 per cent so though insignificant, there was a decline. Commentators are saying that Ivy got the women votes, AL votes and her own votes. This own votes were part of the 65 per cent of 2011 + anti Osman votes -28 per cent which is 37 per cent which could be largely from BNP also.
So very roughly, 65- 33 per cent = 32 per cent is Ivy vote. So 32 per cent + 28 per cent = 60 per cent is a better estimate of Ivy's status.
So her 65 per cent in 2011 probably had 33 per cent BNP votes so she has a core Ivy vote of 32 per cent to which is added the 28 per cent Osman votes of 20111 which gives the 60-61 per cent she got this year.
Commentator Asif Saleh says, "BNP base is about 35 per cent. One explanation may be that most of these voters voted for Ivy last time. Ivy last time got a coalition of anti Osman votes from both al and BNP because she was not an AL candidate. This time the BNP voters have gone back to their base. Ivy pulled in the base AL votes and the women votes to tip the election. She has lost the BNP votes from 2011 but gained the Osman votes."
If AL without Ivy is 28 per cent and Ivy without AL is 33 per cent, BNP vote at 31 per cent makes the three parts close rivals. In fact, that would make BNP slightly more popular than the AL without Ivy in 2011 - 28 per cent last year of AL versus 31 per cent of BNP this year. But in the final analysis it's IVY who is the factor that decides who wins in the port city, neither AL nor BNP or the disgruntled voters. But the elements change. Her key strength is her personal vote bank.
The Councillor elections
It's a little simpler at the Councillor level. AL won 13 Councillor seats while BNP got 12. If one adds the reserved seats where AL got six and BNP got three the numbers are AL 18 and BNP 15. The difference is not significant so grassroots popularity is decided at that level and not national political arguments or work.
The central and field level elections are indicator of several voting realities. A. Ivy is so popular that party politics doesn't matter when it comes to her so AL is vulnerable without Ivy. It must find such Ivys' elsewhere or it will face contest from the anti-AL /anti-incumbency vote.
Vote shares have not changed in the last 5 years which means the "crush BNP-JI" campaign did not affect voting much. Political party structure has limited value when it comes to public perception of choosing a candidate. If BNP gets 33 per cent against Ivy the AL strategy needs rethinking. The impact of "development wave" appears limited in influencing voting.
This 33 per cent vote is not core BNP as no study shows this number. A recent leaked study by Democracy International of US states that core BNP vote is 5 per cent. It may be a little underestimated but it's not much more. Since Islamic vote in Narayanganj was 5 per cent and JI vote is around 3 per cent which went to BNP, this s the floating or anti-AL vote. So the 'unhappy" votes would be around 25 per cent minus various loyalists. But the numbers will vary from one constituency to another. Grassroots are less influenced by the national politics as the difference between AL and the BNP is considerably less at the Councillor level.
Therefore party politics and voting politics in Bangladesh are not exactly in the same measuring category. It also shows alienation of voters from "national issues" and media headlines are not influencing voting as expected. BNP/ anti AL voting and pro-AL voting patterns all remains intact in the half decade.
It should provide all the ingredients for an interesting future election if powers that be decide to hold a quality election as the Narayanganj one was.r
Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist, researcher and