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Reporters’ account of two polling centres in Takatuli

  • Published at 11:27 pm February 1st, 2020
Dhaka City Polls 2020
Photo shows an election official marking a voter with parmanent marker after casting vote in the Dhaka City Corporation Elections on Saturday, February 1, 2020 | Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

Both BNP and Awami League backed mayoral candidates’ polling agents along with the councillor candidates’ were waiting at the two polling stations

Half an hour into the voting in Dhaka South City Corporation polls on Satruday, everything seemed to be going well at the two voting centres at Tikatuli Kamrunnesa Girls' High School and Shaheed Nabi Government Primary School in Tikatuli. 

Both BNP and Awami League backed mayoral candidates’ polling agents along with the councillor candidates’ were waiting at the two polling stations.  

But then the situation began to slide. Around 8:30am a group of youths, wearing badges with the ruling Awami League backed candidate’s symbol, entered the polling stations at Kamrunnesa Girls' school and asked the polling agents representing the BNP candidates to leave.  

A man casting his vote in Dhaka city polls 2020 on Saturday, February 1, 2020 | Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka

Across the road, at Shaheed Nabi Government Primary School, there were no polling agents of the BNP-backed candidates, except for one at a voting booth as the others had already been driven out.   

Some 48 minutes into the voting, only one vote had been cast in a booth located on the second floor of the south building at Tikatuli Kamrunnesa Girls High School centre. 

At centre number 625, only one vote was reported at booth 2.  There were no polling agents representing either BNP mayoral candidate Ishraq Hossain or the party’s councillor candidate Sabbir Ahmed Aref. 

Md. Shahabuddin, presiding officer of centre number 625 at the Kamrunnesa Girls High School centre, told Dhaka Tribune, election officials were administering and overseeing a peaceful casting of votes. 

He said: "We have not received any complaints whatsoever from anybody over the polling agents being allegedly driven out of the centre.  

It was 9:30am. Tikatuli Kamrunnesa Girls' High School and Shaheed Nabi Government Primary model School polling centres were fully empty, visibly deserted with no voters around. 

In stark contrast, though, hundreds of supporters of the Awami League took position in front of both the centres. They ran riot all over the road, chasing away BNP supporters and ex Awami League supported DSCC  number 39 ward councillor Moynul Haque Monju's loyalists. 

A little later, over a hundred supporters of the Awami League attempted to enter the two polling centres. However, police put up barricades in a bid to prevent Awami League supporters from entering the centres. That led to a chase and counter chase between the Awami League loyalists and the police. 

At one stage, BNP backed councillor candidate Sabbir Ahmed Aref arrived at around 10.30am, when Awami League supporters chased his supporters away. Awami League men assaulted two BNP supporters, and injured 3/4 photo journalists for taking pictures, during the violence. 

Amid a tense situation, a contingent of Bangladesh Ansar and VDP forces arrived at the spot. 

Around 10:40am, BNP backed mayoral contender Ishraque Hossain visited both the centres. Talking to reporters, Ishraque said: "Our polling agents were driven out of the polling centres."

A little after 12:00 noon, Awami League men and councillor candidate's supporters entered the EVM booths and forcibly coerced voters to cast their votes after securing their fingerprint scan. 

Shadat Bostani, a male voter in his 40s, told Dhaka Tribune that he was deprived of voting for his favourite candidate, at the Kamrunnesa Girls' High School centre. The unfortunate event unfolded, he said, soon after the presiding officer confirmed his successful finger scan. He saw two men sitting inside the designated polling booth and operating the vote casting device, a part of the EVM. 

Shadat Bostani said that he lodged a complaint over the incident to the designated polling officer, who was a witness to the scene. Much to his surprise, the polling officer said: "We have no power to do anything." 

In a similar incident, Zahirul Islam told Dhaka Tribune that he was not much into the Awami League or BNP thing. Instead,  he wanted to extend his support to a councillor candidate, but much to his dismay, some young men cast his vote when he had completed his finger scan.

As voting time was scheduled from 8am to 4pm without break, at 3:45pm  Shaheed Nabi Government Primary School gate was found locked from outside.

Sporadic violence in the form of chase and counter chase involving police, ruling party men and BNP activists, compounded by the disappointing turnout of voters, at the Dhaka South city corporation polls left a bad taste in the mouth.