A. B. M. Mohiuddin Chowdhury

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A. B. M. Mohiuddin Chowdhury
A B M Mohiuddin Chowdhury (01).jpg
Born (1944-12-01) December 1, 1944 (age 70)
Gohira, Raojan, Chittagong, Bangladesh
Nationality Bangladeshi
Occupation Mayor of Chittagong City Corporation, President of Chittagong City unit of Bangladesh Awami League

Mohiuddin Chowdhury (Bengali: মহিউদ্দীন চৌধুরি Mohiuddin Choudhuri) is the former mayor of Chittagong, the second-largest city in Bangladesh, and a veteran politician associated with the Bangladesh Awami League. He had held the office of mayor since 1994. In 2005, he was elected to his third term in a landslide victory against his opponent, a minister of the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Chowdhury is from the village of Gahira, in the Chittagong District.

2005 mayoral election[edit]

In the whirlwind of Bangladeshi politics, politicians are not known for repeated electoral victory and increased public support; Mohiuddin was an anomaly in that respect. Not only did he win the mayoral race three times, he increased his winning margin in the third election.[1] The election was cited as an example of "people power" in the Bangladeshi national media.

On election night, thousands of people in Chittagong came out to the streets and stood vigil at the election result declaration centre when rumours of "high-level" pressure to declare Mohiuddin's opponent the winner spread.[2] Soon after voting stopped in the afternoon, the people come out en masse to protect their mandate in a demonstration of unity. Large groups walked to the city centre in support of Mohiuddin, since cars and public transport were banned during the evening.

There was widespread fear that large-scale violence would be triggered, as army convoys and police battalions were deployed in the city to impose a curfew. However, despite partisan pressure to halt the mass gathering, the security forces largely remained on the sidelines.

At about six am, after an overnight peaceful sit-in, election officials were forced to declare Mohiuddin the winner and disclose his winning margin.[3] Election observers noted that if public pressure did not increase overnight, there was a possibility that the election results would have been manipulated by the ruling party.

Analysts noted that Mohiuddin's history of populism resulted in his cross-party support and his popularity in Chittagong;[4] this has often put him at loggerheads with his own party leadership.

Development work[edit]

Mohiuddin has been credited[by whom?] for extensive infrastructure-development work and a generally efficient local administration in Chittagong. During his sixteen years and six months' tenure, the political party he was affiliated to, Bangladesh Awami League, was in charge of the central government in Dhaka for only six years. Mohiuddin was in prison without trial for two years whilst serving as a mayor. Despite these limitations, his tenure was marked by extensive development works. Mohiuddin boosted education and health sector of the city by improving the quality of service and reducing the cost of service for lower-income and middle class city dwellers. Secondary schools for girls were built in almost every local ward and new post secondary (two- and four-year education) colleges were built throughout the city. Except Chittagong, no other city authority in Bangladesh offers the extensive educational services provided by the Chittagong City Corporation, which were almost entirely started following Mohiuddin's tenure.

Public Health service received a major boost during Mohiuddin's time in office. Overall, 22 new primary health care centres and dispensaries were established throughout the city. These centres provided basic health care services – consultation with a qualified doctors and distribution of generic drugs at a discounted prescription cost. This had enabled the lower- and lower- middle-classes to receive basic health care before seeing a senior physician at a government or private hospital. The primary health care projects in the city are praised by donor agencies and public-health professionals. During Mohiuddin's term he established five maternity clinics with basic childbirth facilities, staffed with qualified doctors, midwives, and nurses. Under Mohiuddin the Chittagong city authority has invested heavily to build a 100-bed specialised maternity hospital, Mamon Maternity Hospital. The hospital has specialised neonatal care and advanced gynaecological-surgery facilities. The hospital is overseen by two consultant gynaecologists and a team of doctors.[5]

Mohiuddin was the first mayor in Bangladesh to establish a private universityPremier University, Chittagong, sponsored by the Chittagong City Corporation. The university provides excellent academic facilities by Bangladeshi standards.[citation needed] After Mohiuddin took office, the corporation established nine postsecondary colleges, computer-training centres, a midwife-training centre, a healthcare-technology training centre (the first in Bangladesh to train in the operation of health care technology – radiology and radiography, for example) and eight night colleges to expand adult literacy.[6] The Chittagong city authority also manages eight Hindu religious-education centres (known as Sanskrit Toll) to provide religious education in Sanskrit to minority students.

Mohiuddin initiated many unique[citation needed] and innovative services, ranging from a transportation and preservation service for the deceased, to the recycling of waste to produce organic fertiliser. One highly acclaimed[citation needed] public investment by the Chittagong City Corporation is the Theatre Institute Chittagong, where theatre enthusiasts can train and perform. The institute can be rented and is popular amongst drama groups for its technologically well-equipped, purpose-built auditorium.

Mohiuddin pioneered city finances by actively engaging the Chittagong City Corporation in commercial ventures to generate income. By building shopping complex, residential areas and other income-generating projects (such as CNG refuelling stations), the corporation was able to generate income and expand economic opportunities for city residents. He was credited for not raising holding tax in Chittagong for seventeen years and yet running the public services without any public debt.

Arrest in 2007[edit]

After the army-backed government assumed power in Bangladesh in January 2007, Mohiuddin and other top politicians in the country were arrested in an overnight raid on 7 March. He was incarcerated (mostly incommunicado) in various prisons in the country. When first arrested, unlike other arrested leaders he was taken to a remote jail in Bandarban (a district of Chittagong Hill Tracts).[7]

Although the mass media (under pressure from the government's intelligence agency DGFI) reported Mohiuddin's hidden wealth and millions of dollars amassed through corruption, none of the cases against him were proven; the army government voluntarily cleared him of nearly all cases. During the Bangladesh Awami League's internal politics at this time, Mohiuddin was seen as a pro-Hasina leader and remained unswervingly loyal to Sheikh Hasina's leadership.

Whilst in prison, Mohiuddin's daughter was diagnosed with blood cancer in Thailand. Although he was detained without trial for 21 months, despite repeated pleas from his family the government did not release him from prison to see his dying daughter. He was finally released from prison on 8 October 2008[8] following a High Court order. Despite his release, the army-backed government retained his passport and did not allow him to fly to Thailand in time to see his daughter. On 17 October, when the government finally permitted him to fly abroad and just minutes before he boarded the aircraft en route to Bangkok, Mohiuddin's daughter died.[9]

Defeat in 2010[edit]

Mohiuddin lost the fourth Chittagong City Corporation Election to Manjur Alam in 2010 by one hundred thousand votes. Alam was a former financial backer of Mohiuddin. They fell out after Mohiuddin was arrested by the Army backed Caretaker Government. Critics argue over the long years in charge Mohiuddin became dictatorial in his decision making, often ignoring the civil society when taking controversial decisions. Internal party feuds also contributed in Mohiuddin's downfall. Others argued, Mohiuddin failed to capitalise his main voters, working class and minority voters on the day of election. Alam's ostensible financial might was no match for Mohiuddin. Before the election Alam submitted his wealth statement which showed he was 150 times richer than Mohiuddin. As the election was held on Thursday just ahead of two day weekend, it effectively became a three day weekend when most of the working class supporters of Mohiuddin left their factories and headed to their village homes as they do not usually enjoy such long public holidays in Bangladesh except during the time of Eid(s). As a result the election only had a turn out of 52% which was very low compared to Bangladeshi standard.