AL wins ‘marred’ Upazila polls
The outcome appeared to reflect AL’s landslide victory in the Dec. 29 general election but the balloting saw low turnout, sporadic violence and alleged attempts by ruling party MPs and ministers to influence the proceedings.
BNP-backed candidates had won just 59 chairman seats, Jamaat-e-Islami 18, Jatiya Party 10, Workers’ Party and Communist Party of Bangladesh one each, independents 10 and others 13, in results gathered by bdnews24.com from local polls officials on Friday.
LOW TURNOUT, POLLS DISRUPTED
Voting was thin in the morning, and though it picked up in the afternoon overall turnout was low as polling came to a close at 4pm.
A number of polling stations saw disruptions due to violence and voting was called off altogether in four Upazila.
Election commissioner Muhammed Sohul Hussain told bdnews24.com that polls had been postponed in a total of six of 481 Upazila.
Voting in Ukhia Upazila in Cox’s Bazar was called off on Wednesday night after pre-polls violence that left dozens injured. Dighinala Upazila in Khagrachhari postponed its vote on Jan. 15.
The Election Commission called off voting to another four Upazila during polling hours Thursday due to violence or allegations of irregularities.
One person died and at least 200 others were injured in polls violence countrywide.
Oli Mia died after a bloody battle between supporters of pro-Awami League and pro-BNP candidates over control of Purbabhag polling centre in Nasirnagar in Brahmanbaria, police said, while Sadar Upazila saw voting called off for violence.
The morning saw empty voting centres in many parts of the country, with just handfuls of ballots being cast in the first few hours.
Local people expressed reluctance to cast ballots as they said they did not know the candidates.
Coming out of a Gazipur Sadar centre, Ripan Devnath, a voter, said people were not turning out as the Upazila polls were “not very significant for them”.
Other voters said they could not cast their ballots spontaneously as AL activists attempted “to take over centres”.
Chief election commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda expressed disappointment at low voter turnout Thursday, while also blaming MPs and ministers for what he alleged was abuse of political power to influence the polls.
“The commission wanted to hold the third Upazila polls under the caretaker government with a view to avoiding such a situation,” said the CEC.
Local government minister Syed Ashraful Islam denied the CEC’s allegations saying ministers and party lawmakers did not take part in campaigns for the local body elections.
But the opposition BNP accused supporters of Awami League of forcefully occupying polling stations, forcing polling agents of BNP-backed candidates out of the stations and stuffing ballot boxes for AL candidates in the polls.
CEC Huda told reporters: “We’d expected the local elections being held after 18 years would reflect the people’s will and would re-establish the Upazila Parishad system of local government.”
But as voting ended, the CEC said, there was much to be unhappy about.
“A number of ministers and MPs have tried to exert their influence on the voting process in places and we’ve halted the voting in those Upazila.”
“We were expecting that there would be some changes in the country’s political culture under a new government. We didn’t expect that ministers would abuse power,” the CEC said.
“We wanted to hold the election during the tenure of the caretaker government. But that was not possible,” he said.
Voting took place in over 30,000 polling stations of 475 of 481 Upazila from 8am to 4pm without break.
Though voting was disrupted in a number of centres for disturbances, Huda said, “There was no report of extreme violence anywhere and the voter turnout was similar to two previous Upazila elections.”
“Turnout was lower than our expectation,” said Huda. “But if it reached 50 percent, then it will be satisfactory.”
Election commissioner M Sakhawat Hussain, asked if he was satisfied with Thursday’s election, said, “I’m not dissatisfied at all, but we’d high expectation.”
He said Awami League leaders and supporters created untoward incidents at some polling stations, “which was not expected”.
Local government minister and AL spokesperson Syed Ashraful Islam called the incidents “stray”.
“Family feuds, communal conflicts and locality-based disputes are reasons behind violence and disorder in the Upazila elections.”
“It wasn’t a political election and our MPs and ministers didn’t campaign for anyone,” he said.
Ashraful was critical of the current system of non-political elections to the local government tier. “Political parties take part in local government polls in the developed countries,” he said.
“In America and Britain voter turnout is higher in the local elections than in the national polls,” he added.
An opposition spokesperson, BNP office secretary Rizvi Ahmed, raised allegations at a press briefing of massive polls irregularities on Thursday.
“The allegations are arriving at our monitoring cell with proof from Upazila across the country. We’ve information that the ruling party supporters have been forcefully occupying many polling stations across the country, stamping ballot papers and dropping them into the ballot boxes,” said Rizvi.
He also accused local administration of failing to take any measures to prevent such incidents.
“A good number of BNP-backed candidates had boycotted the election by noon seeing massive rigging in the voting,” Rizvi said.
“Awami League have snatched the people’s mandate in the Upazila Parisad election as they did in the general election on December 29,” he said.
According to EC figures, over 8,000 candidates contested countrywide for the three posts in each Upazila. Of the total, 13 candidates have already been elected uncontested.
Former president General Hussain Muhammad Ershad introduced the Upazila system. Elections to the local government bodies were first held in 1985 and then again in 1990.
After the fall of Ershad, then the BNP government repealed the Upazila Parishad Ordinance in 1991.