Mohammad Zainal Abedin: Some members of the Bangladeshi community have contested in different levels of NY (New York) State elections since 1998, but none was ever elected to represent the community neither in the Senate or Assembly (in Albany) or New York City Hall. Among all the candidates, only three could contest in the final rounds of the Assembly and Congressional elections. Those contestants were Morshed Alom, Gias Ahmed, and Toubour Rahman. Every year about a dozen Bangladeshis contested for several positions of NYC elections, none could ever defeat their rival contestants even in the primaries.
Interviews with several Bangladeshis highlighted the different shortcomings of the community’s candidates that contributed to their failure. The synopsis of their comments are as follows.
According to them Bangladeshi candidates, in most cases, are “a bit bossy and dystopian’ while their counterparts are soft, liberal, cooperative, and friendly. They (WHO IS THEY) are more qualified and knowledgeable than the Bangladeshi ones. They (WHO IS THEY) have leadership quality and charming personalities, which most of us do not have. They are as good as their words and deeds. Even we find them (WHO IS THEM) better than their Bangladeshi counterparts. So, our candidates must attain all those qualities to compete with the candidates belonging to other communities.
Several of the interviewees informed there prevails sharp disunity among the Bangladeshis. Some Bangladeshis who contested earlier alleged that many voters of the community neither cooperated nor voted for them.
Disunity is a major hindrance for the Bangladeshi community on their road to the City Council. Unfortunately, they failed to discard the Bangladeshi political culture despite coming to America. The phantom of Awami League versus BNP (Bangladesh’s two major political parties) chases them here too. Almost all the Bangladeshis in the USA also are divided into these blocks. They consider everything on a party basis. If a candidate is pro-AL, he does not hope to get the support of the pro-BNP activists. Same happens in case of a pro-BNP candidate.
Most of the Bangladeshi voters are not aware of the importance of applying their voting power. They do not know it is a sacred duty to vote for their own interest. They do not think about why they need to have their own representatives in different strata of NYC. On the day of the primary election many Bangladeshi voters prefer to work instead of applying to vote.
Personal hatred and rivalry, even misunderstanding, lag them behind. Under this situation Bangladeshi community cannot reach their target of having representation in any level of NYC.
Gias Ahmed, a front-ranking Democratic Party leader of the Bangladeshi community in New York (NY) State is the first Bangladeshi who contested as Republican Party candidate in 2002. In the final race out of the three candidates he secured 37% of the casting votes. He was defeated by John Sabini, a Democrat.
Ahmed’s comments on his defeat represents the reasons why the Bangladeshis still fail to get their representation in any level of NY State policymaking bodies. He believes, “still it was a great achievement for me, as I contested just aftermath the incident 9/11 when anti-Muslim sentiment was naturally extremely high among some sections of people”.
Ahmed pointed at other reasons for his failure adding: “20 years ago, the number of our community was exceptionally low, most of them did not register as voters, some of them preferred working instead of voting, as they didn’t realize the significance of voting.”
He added: “despite successive defeat for decades, we should not be discouraged. We should be united forgetting our political or ideological differences.”
Hasan Ali, a prominent democrat, and social activist, said the reasons of failure of the Bangladeshi candidates was that its candidates are not known to the voters of other communities, even though 80% of NYC dwellers are democrats. “Many of our candidates are not members of the local Democratic Club, School Community Board, or other social bodies, though getting their endorsements is very essential in winning in any election.”
He said, in America voters do not consider ethnicity, color or creed. Rather qualities and capabilities are important to them. They judge and evaluate whether a particular candidate possesses prerequisite qualities to lead them. They vote comparing and ranking all the candidates and select one who according to their judgment is excellent in leading them.
Ali said, “our community voters are divided and subdivided based on party-politics back in Bangladesh. In many cases they suffer from personality clashes. They cannot rise above so many petty differences. Many Bangladeshi voters do not vote for their own community candidates”.
Syed Mohammad Ullah, one of the senior-most Bangladeshi journalists in America, has expressed strong optimism that Bangladeeshi-Americans will begin to make their presence felt, in the near future, in the arena of mainstream American politics.
He said he didn’t feel overly concerned or disappointed at the consecutive defeats of Bangladeshi-American candidates in New York State and city elections over the last many years, emphasizing that they were a fairly recent immigrant community in this country.
Syed Ullah also pointed out the entry of a good number of Bangladeshi-American candidates in last year’s primary elections for U.S. House of Representatives and New York City Council positions. Similarly, several candidates are bidding for seats in this month’s (June 2021) primary elections for New York City Government.
Syed Mohammad Ullah said appropriate preparation was imperative for success in the highly competitive arena of politics. That’s particularly true for an expatriate community in its adopted land, more so if it were of rather recent extraction.
He said that there better be a well-planned preparatory phase instead of a sudden or abrupt jump into a competition.
He listed the following, saying that these were among the most important pre-requisites for success, in his understanding:
- Any person vying for an electoral position should have the record of at least several years’ involvement in community activities, such as in Parents’-Teachers’ Associations, local Community Boards, Police Precinct Advisory Committees, etc.;
- Should have been active within a political party or movement;.
- Should have worked within his community transcending regional or other parochial identities;
- Should better have expended endeavors to build acquaintance and rapport with other communities;
- Should have minimum appropriate qualifications, educational and otherwise, for a position for which she/he planned to compete for.
One’s own community’s support shouldn’t be taken for granted simply because of being someone’s from that particular community, he forewarned.
Finally, he cautioned against becoming spoiler candidates against nationally important personalities who were well-known advocates for greater good, especially for minority and disadvantaged segments of the population.
Morshed Alom says, Bangladeshi candidates launch their campaign within their own community. Many of them are acquainted even with their non-Bangladeshi next-door neighbor. Our candidates are not aware of the political structure of mainstream politics. They are to be aware of the existing problems (of each community and his constituency) and their concrete solutions. They are to emerge as the leaders of all the Americans, not only the Bangladeshis.
A prospective candidate should not consider politics as a hobby, rather, as if, a profession. He should remain in politics, round the clock, 7-day a week year after year. Seasonal politicians have no place in any politics, at least in America, he suggested and opined.
He said he could do better in his politics if he was financially sound. Politics is not for those who are financially backwards.
Kazi Nayon, vocally opined voters of other communities apprehend whether the Bangladeshi candidates do have requisite quality and experience to represent them and resolve their problems. The reason for such a negative conclusion is that our candidates are isolated from them. So, they fail to win as they don’t get sufficient votes from our community.
He said, our community candidates to cope with their candidates are to equip them in all levels. They must attain their acceptability, creditability, and popularity of the constituency which one thinks to represent. They need to know the problems of all the communities should move door to door repeatedly far earlier the election is held. They should hold group meetings with the locals and participate in meetings of any level of People should have this belief that the concerned prospective candidate is capable enough to solve their problems that they face.
Veteran journalist Moinuddin Naser opined Bangladeshi candidates possess poor knowledge regarding American process of election. American voters can vote beyond their party lines. Voters of this country are aware of everything around them. They can present or speak with references, which the Bangladeshis, in most cases, cannot do.
He said, the politics of the Bangladeshi candidates are centralized within their own community. They have little contact with the voters of other communities. Even our new generation are not involved with our candidates. So, candidates need to repair these loopholes and follow the technique of America’s mainstream politics.
Despite having a long list of failures, a new chapter of victory will start soon. I am optimistic our new generation will surely change the trend and open the chapter of victory soon. To reach should take lessons from the past and develop solid unity to reach their target. They should need to think as ‘one community, one candidate’.*
Mohammad Zainal Abedin, a Bangladesh-origin journalist & researcher.
June, 16, 2021.