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Bangladesh goes to polls on Sunday

  • Published at 12:59 am December 30th, 2018
WEB_ballot boxes-Syed zakir Hossain
Election officials and law enforcement members carry voting materials to polling centers on Saturday, December 29, 2018 Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Awami League wants development continuation, BNP cries for democracy

Bangladesh’s 104.2 million voters go to polls on Sunday with the world watching over evolving political developments in a country that posted over 7% GDP growth in recent years and is emerging as a fastest growing economy in South Asia.

The voters largely composed of the young population; 12.1 million of whom are first-timers, are all set to exercise their franchise on Sunday as the Election Commission made all-out preparation to hold the 11th parliamentary election, the first inclusive and participatory general election Bangladesh is witnessing since 2008.

With the ruling Awami League and its pro-liberation alliance looking confident to make it a third win on the trot and celebrate the golden jubilee of the nation’s 1971 victory in 2021, its arch rival centre-right BNP and partners within the Jatiya Oikya Front alliance are looking forward to a change of guard in state power.

Polling opens at 8 in the morning at 40,183 voting centres, and run through 4pm with 299 parliamentary seats up for election. Polls were deferred in one seat at the death of a candidate.    

Over a third of the voters – 52.6 million male and 51.6 million female – are young voters and appear to be a decisive factor in an election that the country’s main opposition party is partaking after skipping the last one in 2014.

With its economy growing and with the attainment of higher education and skill levels, aspiration of the Bangladeshi youth for employment, better business climate and scope for nation building is at its peak now. Both the Awami League and the BNP gave a great deal of emphasis in their respective manifestos to woo young voters.

Ershad’s Jatiya Party, despite being a coalition partner of Awami League, fielded as many as 175 candidates of its own, generating much interest among the voters.

BNP and its alliance partners have been complaining of arrests and harassments of their party leaders and activists all along, since the November 8 election schedule announcement up until last night.  

The Election Commission completed the dispatching of all poll materials to each centre by Saturday and employed police, RAB, paramilitary BGB and armed-force members to ensure a secured polling day for voters.  

 

All major parties made fervent calls to their respective camps to keep vigil till the vote counts are over and urged voters to come in big numbers and exercise their right to franchise. The ruling party suspected of “sabotage” centring Sunday’s election, while BNP said it is ill-prepared in terms of deploying enough polling agents as many of their men have been put behind bars. 

Though this election is going to be a battle of ballots among key alliances, voters of at least 227 constituencies are likely to see the traditional BNP-Awami League duel. In many of these seats, both parties have strong candidates.

The ruling alliance assures voters that their third consecutive term would ascertain continuation of development and prosperity, while the opposition appealed for vote to “bring back democracy” in the country during their span of 18-day campaign that ended Friday morning.

The opposition parties have been demanding a “level playing field” for the sake of a free, fair and participatory election. The Election Commission claimed that “the field” has been created, but BNP remained largely unconvinced amidst incidents of pre-poll violence and arrests of its many activists.

Sunday’s election will be monitored by 163 foreign observers, much lower a number than that of the last all-inclusive polls in 2008. A total of 25,920 local observers from 81 organizations will also be in the field on the voting day. The number of local observers is a fifth of that in 2008. 

The Election Commission, which made all the preparations to hold the polls across the country but could not really live up to BNP and its alliance’s expectations, hopes that the election will be held in a free, fair and festive manner.

The election materials, including translucent ballot boxes and ballot papers, were already sent to the polling centres across the country on Saturday, said Election Commission Joint Secretary Farhad Ahmmed Khan.

On the last day of preparation, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) KM Nurul Huda announced that they have instructed all involved with the general elections to work neutrally, so no question is raised over the poll fairness. 

“If we find any negligence or insincerity during poll-time duty, we will take legal action against those responsible after investigation,” he said while addressing the press at the Nirbachan Bhaban on Saturday afternoon.

He said the law enforcement agencies have been instructed to maintain the law and order situation during and after the voting with an iron fist, and that would be their first priority.

The CEC, who has recently faced demands of his removal from the opposition side citing allegations of prejudice against the opposition, said the EC has already asked the law enforcement officials to stay careful, so no candidate becomes a victim of harassment.

He has also asked all concerned not to harass any polling agent if there is no specific allegation against them.

The army, too, which has been on election field as striking force, assured that they would act to ensure a perfect voting environment. “We will be in sync with all the other law enforcement agencies, and will do our best to provide necessary security for the voters,” Chief of Army Staff General Aziz Ahmed said on Saturday. 

General Aziz sees the election environment as the calmest and most peaceful election atmospheres he has witnessed in 47 years. “The rate of violence was very low in comparison to past general elections.”

On the last day before the election both, the ruling party and the opposition came up with their versions about the all-party election going to be held after 10 years.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is confident about a landslide victory, requested voters to cast their votes and her party candidates to collect the result  sheets signed by the presiding and returning officers before leaving the polling centres.

The Awami League president urged all to disregard the BNP and Jatiya Oikya Front, if they decide to withdraw from the polls. There is no reason to believe Jatiya Oikya Front’s decision to withdraw from the election fray on voting day. “It is just another of their games,” she said, adding that it is the character of the BNP-Jamaat to withdraw their candidacies mid-election.

On the other hand, the chief of the Jatiya Oikya Front, Dr Kamal Hossain, who is confident about their victory if a fair election is ensured because of a pro-democracy mass upsurge in their favour, urged the Election Commission, the election officials, returning officers and their assistants to ensure people’s right to vote.

At a press conference, he said: “The success of your [election officials] duties will be determined by the smile on the faces of the voters. If you discharge your duties properly, it will enhance your dignity.

“I urge the respected voters to please go to polling stations in the morning and cast their votes. Don’t get scared. If you go (to the voting centres), miscreants will flee... they can’t overpower the people’s strength,” he said.

Meanwhile, the police assured that there would be no trouble in casting votes. “Tight security measures have been taken to provide a safe atmosphere for the voters,” Md Asaduzzaman Mia, Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) commissioner, told reporters. “They can come to the polling centres without fear (of violence) and go back home safely.”

Measures have also been taken to stop spreading of propaganda in the cyber world. The Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, the Ministry of Information, the Police Headquarters and the DMP Cybercrime Unit are conducting surveillances round the clock.

According to the Election Commission, the Awami League has floated its candidates under boat symbol for 260 constituencies, while it shares the symbol with partners for another 12 constituencies. In the rest of the seats, the alliance partners have floated candidates with their respective symbols.  

BNP and its alliances floated candidates in 284 seats. They have no candidates in 16. Among them, BNP has 258 of their own party men.