While justifying the half-way boycott of the Dhaka and Chittagong city elections, BNP Standing Committee member Moudud Ahmed alleged that armed ruling party activists occupied all polling centres, excepting one or two, by 8:30am and finished voting by 9am. All polling agents of the BNP-backed candidates were driven out of the polling centres to allow for the casting of false votes, he claimed.
But the final results published by the EC show that the BNP claim that polling in all centres ended essentially by 9am is not credible.
In DNCC, winner Annisul Huq bagged 460,117 votes while the nearest contender BNP’s Tabith Awal got 325,080. The difference is only 135,037 votes.
In Chittagong, BNP’s Manjur Alam got 304,837 votes losing by a margin of 170,524 votes.
Most of the votes the two candidates got were cast before the BNP announced its boycott at 12:30pm – three and a half hours before the closing of the votes.
Usually, in Bangladesh, a huge rush of voters is seen before 12 noon and voters pour into the polling centres again after 2pm as many people, especially women, turn up at the voting centres after finishing their household work.
The ruling party men, no doubt, resorted to rigging the polls in many centres. But that all centres were occupied by 9am is an over-statement. The BNP boycott gave them a free hand to manipulate the polls. Had the opposition provided resistance, the rigging would not have been so easy.
I visited many polling centres where voters were seen standing in long queues for hours to cast votes and the BNP boycott announcement changed the scene drastically: at least 60% of the voters standing in queues left the centres as soon as they came to know the BNP decision.
The BNP-backed candidates might have won the city polls had they fought the last four hours, given the number of votes they got in the first four hours (though many BNP leaders allege that the ruling party men stamped ballots in favour of the opposition to make the polls credible).
However, the boycott gave the BNP a political gain.
If the opposition candidates had won, the PM would have argued that the government was capable of holding fair polls and the BNP must shoulder the responsibility for the killing and burning of innocent people.
BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia’s basic stance after the controversial January 5 polls was that no fair polls were possible under this government and the Election Commission.
How would she defend the three-month-long blockade-hartal-petrol bomb brand of politics that killed over 120 innocent people and shattered the economy if her candidates had won?