Multiple reports of violence and ballot stuffing came from several municipalities
The ruling Awami League-nominated candidates are ahead in the second phase of the municipality polls held in 60 different municipal bodies on Saturday amid reports of violence, irregularities and election boycotts.
Despite the chilly weather, voters queued up at polling stations to exercise their universal franchise early in the morning on Saturday. Voting commenced at 8am and continued till 4pm.
Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) were used in 29 municipalities, while traditional ballot papers were used elsewhere.
As of writing this report, Dhaka Tribune received reports of Awami League candidates leading in the elections.
Meanwhile, the BNP alleged that ruling party supporters had captured most polling stations during the municipality polls on Saturday as they did during the last general elections.
The Election Commission’s secretary said the polls were held in a good and peaceful manner, albeit with some isolated incidents.
One of the commissioners, however, said the polls could not be called “participatory.”
In a written statement, Commissioner Mahbub Talukdar said he had visited 18 booths in three polling stations of Savar municipality and had seen that about 1,232 out of 7,311 voters had cast their votes till 1pm.
Stating that violence still takes place in municipality elections, Mahbub said violence and elections could not go hand in hand.
The Commission’s Senior Secretary Md Alamgir refuted Talukdar's comments and said that the commission’s duty was to hold a neutral election and not a participatory one.
Polls at a glance
Voters in Bogra, Gaibandha, Gazipur, Noakhali, Naogaon, Kurigram, Moulvibazar, and Bandarban have expressed their satisfaction over the atmosphere in the centres as they were able to exercise their right to franchise peacefully.
However, due to the large turnout of voters in these centres, they also said it was not possible to maintain social distancing.
Despite the cold weather, voters turned out in large numbers. Each centre had more female voters than male voters. However, even if voters were wearing masks, social distancing was not ensured.
Masud Ibn Mubarak, 40, a voter from Gazipur, said the rate of coronavirus infection was on the rise in winter. “Even though everyone in the polling stations is wearing a mask, social distance is not being maintained in the queues. This increases the risk of coronavirus infection.”
Associate Professor Waliullah Mondol, who cast his vote at Sreepur Pilot Girls’ High School centre in Gazipur, said EVMs made voting easier and faster. “The election site had an ambience of festivity.”
Abul Hasan, a voter in Comilla’s Chandina municipality, said that after hearing about the pleasant voting environment, he had come to vote.
BNP-backed candidates boycott election
In Rajshahi, the BNP-backed mayoral candidate of Bhabaniganj municipality, Abdur Razzak Pramanik, boycotted the election.
“The supporters of ruling party candidate Abdul Malek occupied Shahid Sekandar Memorial High School poll centre in the morning [on Saturday] and did not allow me to cast my vote,” he said to journalists while announcing his decision to boycott the election.
He also alleged that there weren’t any polling agents from his party in any centre as they had all been kicked out.
When asked, ruling party-backed candidate Abdul Malek said: “It is 11am now. Most votes have been cast already. Is there any benefit in boycotting the vote now?”
He maintained that there were BNP agents at all polling centres. “Faced with sure defeat, maybe he is boycotting the election,” added Malek.
Similarly in Mongla port municipality, BNP-nominated mayoral candidate Zulfiqar Ali and 12 other ward councillor aspirants also boycotted the election, raising allegations of vote-rigging and commandeering of centres by ruling party men.
He announced the decision to boycott the election at a press conference at his residence at around 10:30am.
In Ishwardi municipality of Pabna, BNP-backed mayoral candidate Rafiqul Islam also boycotted the election after alleging that he and his polling agents had been “kicked out” of voting centres.
He made the declaration from his home at around 1:30pm.
He demanded a free and fair election while speaking to journalists.
In Kuliarchar municipality of Kishoreganj, after three hours of voting, the BNP-nominated mayoral candidate Nurul Millat, at around 11:30am, made a similar allegation. He alleged that his polling agents had been assaulted by ruling party men and were thrown out of voting centres.
Allegation of Irregularities
In Bogra’s Sariakandi municipality, a mobile court has sentenced Shahadat Hossain, 30, a member of the Upazila Jubo League, to one year in prison for violating the electoral code of conduct.
Judicial Magistrate Niskriti Hagidak handed down the sentence on Saturday afternoon.
Earlier, he was arrested at Batia Government Primary School in Ward No 7 of the municipality for trying to cast false votes at the centre and for beating up Parvez, a polling agent of Awami League rebel candidate Alamgir Shahi Sumon.
In Natore’s Gopalpur municipality, supporters of the Awami League candidate have been accused of ballot stuffing at one of the polling centres.
Independent mayoral candidate Manjurul Islam Bimal's chief agent, Anwarul Islam, made the allegation at around 1:15pm.
According to a source, the followers of Awami League mayoral candidate Roxana Mortaza Lily began stuffing ballots at Keshabpur Government Primary School centre in the morning.
When he tried to stop them, he was reportedly thrown out. He then informed the presiding officer about the matter.
When asked, police SI Krishna, in-charge of the centre, said he did not know of the matter. However, he said, many were spreading such rumours.
Meanwhile, the presiding officer of Keshabpur Government Primary School centre said he had not officially announced any siege of the polling centre and ballot stuffing. He declined to comment further.
In Tangail, both Awami League rebel and BNP-nominated candidates for the mayoral post alleged that supporters of the ruling party-backed aspirant had expelled voters from a polling centre, barring them from casting their votes during the municipality election in Dhanbari after only having their fingerprints.
Electronic voting machines were used in the polls there.
Awami League rebel candidate Moniruzzaman Bakol said ruling party candidate Khondoker Manjurul Islam's supporters drove his polling agents out of the Dhanbari Government Degree College centre.
They cast votes for the Awami League candidate themselves after taking the fingerprints of the voters, he said.
"It is not an isolated incident that took place only in this centre; such incidents have taken place in all other centers. We have lodged a complaint with the presiding officer in this regard," Bakol said.
BNP-nominated candidate SMA Sobhan also cited various irregularities regarding the polls.
Presiding Officer Sujan Nath, however, said he had not received any complaint over the matter.
In Gazipur’s Sreepur municipality, many voters went home without casting their votes. They complained that their fingerprints did not match on the EVMs.
Violence breaks out
In Comilla, clashes erupted between supporters of two ward councillor candidates of Chandina municipality. Four people were reported injured in the clashes.
The clashes reportedly took place near Harang Government Primary School polling station at around 9:30am on Saturday.
According to locals, the clashes broke out between the supporters of Billal Hossain and Nazmul Hasan.
Chandina police station OC Shamsuddin Md Ilias said: “I have heard that there has been a clash between the supporters of the two candidates over going to the polls. I am looking into the matter.”
In Feni, three people, including a policeman and an Ansar member, were injured when a crude bomb exploded at Gonipur Government Primary School polling station in Daganbhuiyan upazila during the municipality election.
Of the injured, two were identified as Arif and Omar Faruk.
Witnesses said a chase and counter-chase took place between the supporters of councillor candidates and ruling party-backed candidates at the polling station.
At one stage, a bomb exploded during the scuffle, leaving three people, including a policeman, a member of Ansar and a supporter of a councillor candidate injured.
BNP- backed mayoral candidate Kazi Saiful Rahman Swapan alleged that ruling party men were involved in the crude bomb blast.