The growing number of violent incidents and fatalities are not only tarnishing the image of the party, but also raising questions about the Election Commission’s ability to hold peaceful elections
Bloody clashes between supporters of rival Awami League candidates continue to mar the ongoing elections to local government bodies, with the ruling party’s attempts to control its rowdy leaders and activists proving futile.
The growing number of violent incidents and fatalities are not only tarnishing the image of the party, but also raising questions about the Election Commission’s ability to hold peaceful elections.
The latest incident of poll violence was reported during the fourth phase of municipality polls on Sunday, when clashes between supporters of two Awami League councillor candidates left one person dead in Patia, Chittagong.
On Saturday, 25 people, including four police officers, were injured when supporters of the AL nominated candidate clashed with followers of a rebel candidate in Bogra.
Barely three weeks ago, rival ruling party groups fought pitched battles in several city locations during and after the Chittagong City Corporation elections. Five people were killed, and scores were injured.
At least 10 people have been killed and several hundred others injured during the first, second, third and ongoing fourth phases of the municipality polls.
At the core of the problem lies the party’s failure to prevent rebel candidates from contesting the elections. This leads to division in the party, as supporters split into factions and face off against each other in desperate bids to ensure victory.
Over the past few months, the AL leadership has warned of disciplinary action over any foul play in elections. In some areas, the Awami League has dissolved grassroots committees and sent show-cause letters to rebels. The party has even threatened to withhold nominations in future polls for candidates who rebel against its decisions.
However, all the initiatives have failed to discourage infighting.
“All the ruling party candidates want to win, by hook or by crook. They are so desperate that they won’t even spare their own party colleagues,” said a senior Awami League leader, adding that the main reason for the disputes was lust for power.
“The Awami League has been ruling the country over a decade now. From the top to the grassroots level, every party activist and leader wishes to grab power and that is why the candidates and rebel candidates of our party try their best to secure wins in the municipality polls, resulting in violence and killings in some areas,” a leader of the Awami League top brass told this newspaper on condition of anonymity.
However, AL Presidium member Faruk Khan believes the violence is part of local government elections not just in Bangladesh, but also in India and the USA.
“The Election Commission can come up with new directives to limit election campaigns in a bid to reduce electoral violence,” said Faruk Khan, who is also a member of the Awami League’s local government nomination board.
AL bleeding due to infighting
Apart from the clashes on Sunday and violence during the fourth phase of the municipality polls in Patia, there were clashes between supporters of the AL-backed and rebel candidates in Tangail's Gopalpur municipality last week. One person died and at least five others were injured.
The deceased, Md Khalil, was a supporter of the rebel candidate.
Similar incidents took place in Jhenaidah, Kushtia, Chittagong and some other areas of the country. There was violence in almost every municipality where rebel candidates contested the polls.
The deadliest of the clashes were in Chittagong. Five people were killed and several hundred injured in violence during the Chittagong City Corporation (CCC) polls on January 27.
Two persons were killed in separate incidents. Md Alauddin Alam, 28, was shot dead during clashes between rival councillor candidates within hours of the start of voting in Ambagan at the city's Khulshi area.
Ruling party leaders claim the number of clashes and casualties are still at tolerable levels.
AL presidium member Abdur Rahman said: “The situation is not out of control, but we feel sorry that such incidents are repeatedly occurring. The Awami League wants free, fair and peaceful elections at every stage.”
What can the Election Commission do?
Election Commission officials claim they are doing everything they can to hold peaceful elections and the level of violence is beyond their expectations.
“I call upon every candidate to obey the law for a peaceful election,” Election Commissioner Kabita Khanam told Dhaka Tribune
“The EC is deploying the required number of forces to secure the polling booths on election day. Unfortunately, there has been violence in other areas,” she added.
The election commissioner also said the field administration and law-enforcement agencies had been directed to take prompt action to stop electoral violence.