A group of teachers who independently observed the elections said they noticed a number of irregularities outside the halls
Outwardly, it may appear that, with major incidents of irregularities at only two of the 18 halls of Dhaka University, the Dhaka University Central Students' Union (Ducsu) and hall union elections have been relatively fair.
But the experience of general students, many candidates and teachers who observed the election, says otherwise.
The polling counters, which were set up inside the residential halls, opened more or less around 8am yesterday. Mashkat, a non-residential student, says he came to his hall to vote around 11am. He waited in a long queue for over two hours, and then past 1pm he left frustrated, unable to exercise his franchise.
“The line did not seem to move forward at all,” he said.
A group of teachers who independently observed the elections said they noticed a number of irregularities outside the halls.
First, they saw a large presence of Chhatra League activists outside the halls, checking IDs. They discouraged non-resident students from voting, the teachers said in a press statement.
“Chhatra League members enjoyed free movement in and around the polling centres, but candidates and activists of other panels faced resistance,” the statement said.
There was an 'artificial' crowding outside the centres that may have slowed down voting and discouraged voters, it said.
“We kept a count and found that some voters spent between five and 23 minutes inside the booth. These delays may have been intentional,” it added.
An MBA student attached to F Rahman Hall alleged that his friends who were activists of Chhatra League called him away when he approached the entrance.
“Chhatra League men had taken position in front of the gate and were checking everyone's IDs. My friends called me away to have tea. After that, they told me, the queue is too long, maybe you should come back later,” he said.
He was a supporter of the quota reformists’ panel.
Major incidents at women's halls
The first major allegation of irregularities was raised at the Bangladesh-Kuwait Maitree Hall, a few minutes before polls were scheduled to open. The university authorities responded quickly, suspending the provost. Voting resumed at 11:15am and continued till 5:10pm.
Around 11:30am, voting at Ruqayyah Hall was suspended after students clamoured against vote rigging. Voting resumed at 3pm.
In both cases resident students had found ballots outside of polling counters, stuffed in the opaque steel boxes. In Maitree Hall, the ballots were marked for the Chhatra League candidates.
There were reports of some irregularities at Sufia Kamal and Shamsunnahar Halls as well.
No way to keep track of voting
The teachers who observed the elections pointed out that the ballot papers had no serial numbers.
“It was surprising to us that in an election of 43,000 voters there were no serial numbers on the ballot papers. This would make it very easy to rig the results massively,” their statement said.
Antara Labiba Prattasha, an independent candidate for the Maitree Hall union, said the absence of serial numbers on the ballot would make it impossible to track any irregularities after the results.
“There were no serial numbers on any of the ballot papers we recovered,” she said.
Unlike every other election in the country, there were no methods to identify voters who had already voted.
Prof Abdus Sabur Khan, the house tutor for Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Hall and a senior election official, said the polling officials did not put any marks to identify voters, but each student was required to bring their university ID.
“The IDs were punched before they cast their votes,” he said.
A masters student from the hall however, said he had seen people come back to vote multiple times with their marked ID cards, covering the punch hole with their fingers.
“They kept getting in front of me in the line, and I eventually got frustrated and did not vote,” he said.
In most places however, students who were unable to vote due to long queues or the stalling tactics at the gates, came away without complaint.
At 11:15am, the Dhaka Tribune spoke to a student at the Shahidullah Hall who said he had lined up at 8am and made it halfway through the queue since then.
“I do not know if I will be able to vote in my life's first election,” he said. It could not be learned whether he had been able to.
A Chhatra Dal activist who was formerly a resident of the Salimullah Muslim Hall, said he retreated his tracks when he saw the gathering of Chhatra League activists at the entrance.
By 1:30pm, the major incidents in the campus had been addressed by the authorities. But the opposition candidates had by that time decided that the election was rigged, and they came together at a press brief to announce that they would boycott the vote.
Among them were the leftist progressive panel, the independent panel, quota reformist panel, the Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal panel and the Shadhikar panel.
These activists then proceeded to demonstrate around the campus, and a number of students joined them. They called for cancelling the vote and a new schedule.
The Dhaka Tribune spoke to one of the agitated protesters, a masters student.
“This was my once chance to take part in a great democratic process. I am angry that they denied me this opportunity, at this injustice,” she said.
The various panels have announced campus strikes for today.
Those who were able to cast their votes were very happy, however.
A Maitree Hall student said the struggle in the morning to ensure a fair voting process had doubled their joy of voting.
“When you have to fight for your right, the achievement is even more enjoyable,” she said.
Hasiul Hasan Hasib, a Bangla department student who went to vote at Bangabandhu Hall in the early hours with his friends, stayed around after casting the ballot.
“I saw that the students who came in with a mobile phone had no place to leave them. I opened up a booth so that they could keep their phones there while going in,” he said.
'Free and fair election'
Both Chhatra League and the university administration have said that the vote was free and fair. Asked about the allegations that their activists had barred many students from voting, the organization's leaders denied the allegations.
“In fact, at Jashimuddin Hall, we heard that many were being barred from voting and we spoke to the provost and let them through,” general secretary candidate Golam Rabbani told reporters at Modhur Canteen.
He said there was no proof against the allegations of irregularities.