BNP leaders and activists identified five key reasons behind their fall in Barisal, a city that is typically a BNP stronghold
While Barisal mayor-elect Serniabat Sadiq Abdullah, candidate from the ruling Awami League, claimed the Barisal City Corporation election to be fair, other mayoral candidates alleged citywide election fraud and vote manipulation.
On the day of the election, BNP mayoral candidate Mujibur Rahman Sarwar alleged that his polling agents had been thrown out of the polling centres, and outsiders stuffed the ballots, which led to him boycotting the election in the afternoon.
However, the Dhaka Tribune spoke with a number of voters and residents of Barisal City Corporation, who appeared less satisfied with the overall situation during the election. Some voters even alleged that they had been stopped from voting at their polling centres.
BNP leaders and activists identified five key reasons behind their fall in Barisal, a city that is typically a BNP stronghold.
The allegation of election fraud was loud and clear in Barisal; among the six mayoral candidates, five boycotted the election complaining that vote rigging took place in almost every polling centre on Monday.
Dr Manisha Chakraborty, mayoral candidate from the Socialist Party of Bangladesh, said she was assaulted by Awami League men when she protested vote-rigging at Sadar Girls’ High School polling centre Monday morning.
Farzana Khan Rozy, BNP leader in the party’s Barisal metropolitan unit, alleged that many did not come to the polling booths fearing harassment from Awami League men.
Many voters also complained of not being able to vote on Monday, some saying they went to their polling centres only to find that their votes had already been cast.
Although the returning officer in Barisal refuted allegations of election fraud, results were postponed in 15 polling centres, while voting was permanently shut down in one.
Election Commission’s failure
The five boycotting candidates and the voters both alleged that the Election Commission had failed to hold a fair election.
Despite repeated complaints, the returning officer did not take any action to stop the fraud, alleged BNP candidate Sarwar.
“The Election Commission failed to ensure equal opportunity for all the candidates. Our polling agents were kicked out of the centres,” Sarwar alleged. “The commission is responsible for such a one-sided election. It is not fit to hold the upcoming national election,” he added.
However, Returning Officer Mojibur Rahman said there were only a few problems in the morning, but by afternoon the situation was brought under control.
“If a candidate’s polling agents could not enter the polling centres, what could we do?” he said.
BNP also blamed the Barisal district administration for their defeat, alleging that they were biased towards the Awami League candidate.
The district administration had not allowed BNP to conduct their election campaign properly, BNP leaders said.
Requesting anonymity, a district BNP leader said: “BNP’s election campaigns were foiled by the administration. We were not provided with equal opportunities in the field. The law enforcement agencies did not take any action when we reported vote-rigging by Awami League men.”
BNP claimed that, due to police harassment, they could not gather enough members to recruit polling agents during the election.
Sarwar alleged that despite the High Court’s order not to arrest BNP leaders and activists, law enforcement members raided the residences of BNP men even on the night before the election and arrested more than 300 leaders and activists.
Requesting anonymity, a BNP leader said: “The influential leaders who could play a vital role during the election campaign were threatened to leave the area.”
Party insiders said internal issues were also a major reason behind BNP’s fall in Barisal.
Since BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia’s imprisonment in February, many of its leaders and activists have lost focus, BNP sources told the Dhaka Tribune.
Defeat in the Khulna and Gazipur city polls also affected the spirit of the party men, the sources added.
“Most of the top leaders in Barisal were inactive during the election. Many of them remained out of the city. Only two or three leaders were seen working with the BNP candidate during the election campaign,” said a BNP leader in the metropolitan unit.