BGB spokesperson Shariful Islam said another 10 platoons of BGB members had been kept ready and would be deployed if needed
As the clock struck midnight, the final 32-hour countdown to the high-voltage elections to the two Dhaka city corporations commenced, with all eyes on the capital.
The countdown began in the wake of the end of the 20-day election campaign by the city corporration election aspirants. The campaigns for tomorrow’s election got under way on January 10 through the allocation of electoral symbols to candidates for the mayoral and councillor offices of the two city corporations.
Meanwhile, the Election Commission (EC) has completed all preparations, including for the maintenance of law and order at the election, voting for which will begin at 8am tomorrow.
Some 50,000 members of different law enforcing agencies have been assigned duties for the election. As part of tightening security measures, 65 platoons of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) were deployed on Thursday morning.
BGB spokesperson Shariful Islam said another 10 platoons of BGB members had been kept ready and would be deployed if needed.
Other than paramilitary personnel, members of police, Rapid Action Battalion, Armed Police Battalion and Ansar would also be deployed around Dhaka soon, sources at the Election Commission said.
Mock voting failure
Despite the EC’s organising mock voting through using electronic voting machines (EVMs) at all polling centres from 12noon to 7pm on Thursday, the response was very poor.
Worryingly, many of the centres did not even have a single voter.
“Some voters came with their NIDs, but none of them matched with the machine. We guess they were voters of a nearby centre,” said Sakline Hossain, assistant presiding officer at the Udayan High School centre.
“Only one voter came to this polling center till 4pm,” said Anisur Rahman, presiding officer at the New Model Degree College centre.
Many voters claimed that they had no idea of EVMs.
“Though I have no idea (about the machines), I’m confident that I will be able to cast my vote smoothly,” said Arifa Sultana.
Home boss says all is okay
The city goes to the election amid the ruling Awami League and BNP trading blame over clashes between their supporters in the past few days. The high commands of both parties have been accusing each other of trying to ruin the election atmosphere by hiring "armed goons" from outside the city.
However, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal on Thursday claimed that he saw no risks centering around the election as the law and order situation was under complete control.
While visiting a Saraswai Puja mandap on Manik Mia Avenue, he told reporters that the law enforcing agencies remained under the control of the EC during any election.
“The agencies have been working in line with the EC’s directives… I think the overall atmosphere of the election is fully under control,” he said.
When asked which centres were being treated as risky, he said: “There is no risk there. The law enforcers are ready according to the EC’s instructions.”
Until on Thursday evening, at least five clashes were reported at different campaigns, injuring no less than 38 people, including journalists. Three of the clashes involved leaders and activists of the BNP and Awami League.
Awami League infighting triggered the other clashes.
Tabith concerned about polls day, so are Awami League aspirants
The BNP mayoral candidate for Dhaka North City Corporation, Tabith Awal, has said concerns have been growing regarding election day.
He, however, will make a concrete statement over the overall election atmosphere once voting ends at 4pm on Saturday.
At a media briefing at the National Press Club on Thursday, Tabith Awal said: “The election is around the corner. But it is uncertain whether the agents of candidates will be able to go to the polling stations safely.”
About electronic voting machines (EVMs), he said that it would be clear on election day as to how the machines worked.
“We will also observe how the commission reacts to any allegations during voting,” he said.
In another development, Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh, the Awami League-endorsed mayoral candidate for Dhaka South, said the BNP was crafting a plot to take control of 170 polling stations.
“We’ve learnt that BNP leaders and activists are planning to seize 170 polling stations. We condemn such an act and urge the EC to take proper measures for a congenial polls environment,” he said.
Taposh warned that voters would resist any such attempt to foil the election.
His party colleague, Atiqul Islam, vying for Dhaka North city’ mayoral aspirant, also alleged that outsiders were being brought to the capital centring around the city elections.
Awami League-BNP top brass still in blame game
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said the Awami League was continuously breaching the electoral code of conduct, reminding him of the 2018 general election.
“Even the comments of Awami League leaders are provocative. The atmosphere of the city polls resembles that of the 11th national election,” he said.
He alleged that the Awami League was outsourcing people and smuggling arms into Dhaka city ahead of the election.
Earlier in the day, Awami League Secretary General Obaidul Quader said his party men would stand guard at polling centres ‘organizationally’, in order to help the EC hold the election freely and fairly.
On the BNP’s allegation of miscreants being hired by the Awami League from outside Dhaka, he said: “The BNP is making misleading, false and provocative remarks to halt the election atmosphere and make the polls questionable.
“It is rather the BNP which is outsourcing troublemakers. This is why our leaders and activists will guard polling stations so that voting can be held smoothly,” he said.
On the grave allegations raised by the two parties, Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda said he did not have any information substantiating the claim.
“Nevertheless, the overall polls environment is conducive,” he said.
‘Awami League’s rallies on last campaign were unapproved’
Huda went on saying that the ruling party held many rallies across the city on Thursday as part of preparations to celebrate “Mujib Year” without taking prior permission from the commission.
“I feel the party should not have done that. It should have have taken our permission,” he said.
Traffic restrictions in place
A ban on motorised vehicular movement inside Dhaka city has been in effect since midnight. The ban imposed by the Roads and Highways Department will continue until 6pm tomorrow.
Interestingly, the ban on motorbikes will be in place till Sunday morning.
However, emergency services like ambulances, fire service, electricity, gas, postal and telecom will remain out of the purview of the ban.
The ban will not be applicable for vehicles with approvals from the EC. Vehicles carrying passengers, with valid travel documents or tickets, to and from the airport, rail stations, bus and river terminals will be free to move.