But the election day painted a rather old picture, as old problems persisted in spite of the new technology
The elections to Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) and Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) on Saturday were markedly different with citywide deployment of electronic voting machines (EVM). The core argument for using EVMs was that it would prevent tampering and political influence.
But the election day painted a rather old picture, as old problems persisted in spite of the new technology.
Electoral violence, battles over polling centres, the rout of political opponents, and an abundance of ruling party members, even within restricted areas — were all recurring complaints from previous national and local government elections.
While violence broke out sporadically, an electoral law that requires all political supporters to maintain a distance of 1,200 feet from polling centres was widely flouted.
Reporters all over the city said there was little to no presence of BNP’s polling agents at any of the voting centers.
In the afternoon, Awami League Presidium member Jahangir Kabir Nanak said EVMs were advanced technology that removed the need for polling agents.
In Uttara and Mirpur, there were almost no polling agents of BNP candidates at the voting centres. But there were plenty of agents and supporters for candidates of the ruling party.
At IES School and College in Uttara Sector 5, one Alamgir Hossain introduced himself as a BNP polling agent. When asked who his candidate was, he said he did not know.
Mostafizur Rahman Segun, a councillor candidate of BNP from DNCC’s Ward 1, said he had appointed 32 polling agents throughout the ward but only 27 showed up, only to be driven away.
A polling agent at the centre said he was afraid of wearing the ID of a BNP polling agent, because it could incur the wrath of the ruling party agents.
A mass turnout of people with disabilities was welcomed by a gaggle of enthusiastic ruling party supporters, who helped the voters in and essentially cast their ballots for them.
Awami League’s polling agents appeared to hold a monopoly at the polling centres in Pallabi, North Kafrul, Mirpur 1, Mirpur 6, Mirpur 10, and Darussalam areas until the afternoon.
From Tikatuli’s centres, BNP’s polling agents were driven out. Ruling party supporters also thronged outside, pouncing upon any familiar political opponents they came across.
Mostafizur Rahman Suman, a reporter with Agami News, was attacked while taking photos of Awami League men in Mohammadpur.
At Kamrunnahar Girls School in Tikatuli, photojournalists were also assaulted and had their SD cards forcibly taken away when they photographed BNP agents being driven out from the centre.
A voter was also assaulted by ruling party supporters.
Inspector General of Police Md Javed Patwary assured the mass media that strict action would be taken against the attackers.
The traditional violence
The low voter turnout on Saturday believed to have significantly curbed the number of hostile incidents.
In adherence to almost a storied tradition of explosives at every major election, several crude bombs went off in Bakshi Bazar with zero casualties, but it caused widespread panic and suspended voting for a while in neighbouring polling centres.
Awami League councillor aspirant Aleya Sarwar Daisy, also known as Daisy Sarwar, was also attacked, allegedly by supporters of a rival candidate at a centre in Mohammadpur.
In one of the many similar incidents, infighting broke out between supporters of an Awami League candidate and a rebel candidate at Begum Badrunnesa Government Girls' College centre in Bakshi Bazar.
British High Commissioner in Dhaka, Robert Dickson, had visited the centre in the morning. Soon after he left, rebel candidates entered the centre and tried to coerce the presiding officers into abusing their powers to cast ballots in their favour.
When the presiding officer refused, the party candidate’s supporters arrived and escalated the situation. A tense standoff gave way to backandforth chases between the two factions, until police arrived to disperse them and defuse the situation.
Several people from both factions were injured in the running battle.
Polling officials put voting on hold to have lunch
On a visit to a polling station in old Dhaka, the British High Commissioner found a booth closed as polling officials halted voting to have lunch.
British High Commissioner Robert Dickson visited the 82nd polling station at Begum Badrunnesa Government Women’s College on old Dhaka’s Bakshi Bazar Road and asked presiding officers about the atmosphere on voting day.
Visiting booth 6 at centre 3, designated for female voters, around 2:20pm, he found voting was put on hold since the assistant presiding officer and the polling agent were having lunch. He smiled at the officials and left without any further enquiry.
Assistant Presiding Officer Md Akhtar Hossain, present in the room, said: “We were having lunch at our respective desks when the [British] high commissioner visited. He did not say anything to us.”
Expressing deep dismay over the incident, Presiding Officer AGM Emdadul Haque said: “This was an embarrassing situation. I had instructed them [polling officials] earlier not to pause voting for anything. But, they do not listen.
“Taking namaz [prayer] and lunch breaks, they were eating lunch right at their desks.”
He added: “Voting cannot be stopped at any cost. This is not the rule. They were given strict instructions to take turns to have meals but did not pay heed.”
Dhaka Tribune’s Ali Asif Shawon, Arifur Rahman Rabbi, Fahim Reza Shovon, Hasan Al Javed, Kamrul Hasan, Md Sanaul Islam Tipu, Mehedi Hasan, Mizanur Rahman, and Niaz Morshed contributed to this report.