Three broad trends significant in this election:

Media Activism: A large section of Bangladeshi media played an extremely enthusiastic part in boosting Selina Hayat Ivy, trashing Shamim Osman, and completely ignoring BNP candidiate Taimur Alam Khandqar. We heard over and over, that Ivy was a successful mayor in her last stint. What were the indications of her success? By how much did corporation tax revenues increase? How many schools and colleges did she build? How many bridges and culverts were constructed during her tenure? We don’t know, because the media didn’t tell us. Instead, they repeated non-stop that Ivy was a “clean” candidate. What that clean means, or will mean in the future, no one knows.

Similarly, Shamim Osman probably got the most intensive media lynching in Bangladeshi media history after Tarique Rahman in 2005 – 2008. Conspicuously absent from the litany of accusations against him was the fact that he committed the most blatant act of political terrorism in Bangladesh’s last 20 years. In 1998, when BNP arranged a road march to Chittagong to protest the peace treaty, it was Shamim Osman who led the attack on Khaldea Zia’s motorcade, and forced her to change her route to Chittagong. It was an event that shocked the nation and dominated media coverage at that time. Yet, this time around, this very significant event was almost absent from the media coverage.

In the same vein, all  the media said about Tamur was that he is a former chairman of BTRC and the past Caretaker Government filed 5 corruption cases against him. What were his successes or failures as BTRC chairman? What is the status of those corruption cases? Are they more or less serious than the ones filed against our current Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, and so on? We don’t know, because the media didn’t bother to tell us.

Army Deployment and BNP: Sheikh Hasina chose an extremely insidious way to remove army protection from the elections. The media coverage of this election was extensive and hysterial for the last few days before the election. Thus, the Election Commission’s request for army was granted. Only, when the time came for the army to deploy, they never showed up.

When BNP then decided to boycott the election, it made things very simple for Ivy. The vote in this election was always going to divided into pro and anti Shamim Osman. With Taimur not participating, the anti-Shamim vote would, instead of being split up, go to just one candidate, Ivy. Even though everyone is going on about how exemplary this election was, there were plenty of indications of irregularity during election day, including Ivy complaining that half of her polling agents did not show up because of threats, and Shamim Osman openly assaulting a Chatra League leader. However, what changed was that while these measures may have been enough to tilt the balance in a three-way race where the anti-Shamim vote would be fragmented, it proved inconsequential in a two-way race.

Decentralization of power: Just two days after Ivy’s election, Lokman Hossain, the mayor of Narsingdi, was assassinated. Lokman Hossain was twice-elected the best mayor in Bangladesh. His assassination, from where it was committed to the modus operandi of the killers, all bear the trademarks of a political hit. A three-day hartal has already been called against the killing. Remarkably, Telecommunications Minister Rajiuddin Ahmed Raju is already mentioned as being involved in this matter.

Bangladesh is slowly undergoing a painful decentralization where young and ambitious mayors are building their own power base and challenging the more senior leaders in their parties. They are using their positions as mayor and chairman to build patronage networks, increase name recognition, and show the people of their area that they can deliver services and infrastructure projects. The ossification of student politics since the ’90s has temporarily stopped the inflow of student leaders into politics, and created a vacuum which is being exploited by businessmen and retired governemnt officials. However, in the end, it is this generation of local government leaders who will make the transition to, and ultimately run, national politics.

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