REF: The Election Commission (EC) has decided to deploy the army for 15 days – from Dec 26 to Jan 9 – to ensure a ‘peaceful, free and fair’ parliamentary election.
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad informed the reporters about the decision on Friday evening after a law and order meeting.
“Number of troops to be deployed in different areas will depend on the situation. The number will increase if there is trouble,” he said.
The meeting at the NEC auditorium had begun at 3pm and ended around 7pm.It was attended by the four election commissioners, EC Secretary, the home, public administration, finance and information secretaries, returning officers, top officials of the armed forces, police,
Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), Coastguard, Ansar and VDP, NSI, DGFI, deputy commissioners, divisional commissioners, superintendents of police and district-level election officials.
Apart from the armed forces, the police, RAB, BGB, Coastguard, Ansar and VDP will also be deployed to ensure security during the balloting.
Responding to queries, the CEC said they were yet to finalise the number of sensitive voting centres. “Some more days will be needed to assess the risk factors.”
According to the election roadmap, the polls will take place on Jan 5. But 154 candidates in as many seats have already won uncontested as the main opposition, BNP, boycotted elections.
That means voting will take place only in 146 constituencies.CEC Ahmad said the preliminary outline of deployment of law enforcers in the voting centres and constituencies was placed in the meeting.
Returning officers will decide where and how many members of law-enforcing agencies will be deployed. The number could be more than what it was during 2008 general elections, he added.
He said, “For the time being, we don’t see any necessity for the army to be deployed after Jan 9. The timeframe would be changed depending on the situation and need. The decision will be taken at that time.”
The CEC, however, said the current pre-polls situation was ‘satisfactory’, even as the Opposition has been enforcing Bangladesh-wide blockades every day, except Fridays, for the last several weeks.
Deputy commissioners and superintendents of police briefed the EC on the situations across the country, he said.Ahmad said, “They said the situation was improving. They assured that the things will get better in time.”
The CEC also directed the law-enforcing agencies to take necessary measures to ensure undisturbed balloting.“Terrorists don’t work for parties but for money. They must be apprehended and illegal arms must be seized.
“They [law enforcers] have assured us that the situation will get better and voters will be able to cast their votes without any disturbance.”Raids were being conducted across the country to seize illegal firearms, he added.
Regarding the security of the candidates, Ahmad said, “Protections have been given to those who have sought for it. We have received some applications, which we have forwarded to the law-enforcing agencies for necessary action.”
The Election Commission was not informed about the European Union’s decision not to monitor the polls, he said responding to a query.
“They will monitor on their own. Many will come and monitor if the law and order improve. Those who don’t want to come cannot be forced.”
Asked why it was necessary to deploy the army even after candidates in half of the constituencies got elected uncontested, Ahmad said even additional police force would not able to cover all the voting centres.
“Law and order must be maintained everywhere. Police and RAB are not enough. Army is necessary.”
The armed forces will be mobile and led by executive magistrates. They would not be deputed in or outside the voting centres unless returning or presiding officers require their assistance.
Same directive will also go out to BGB, Coastguard, Armed Police Battalion and RAB, the CEC said. But members of police and Ansar and VDP will be deputed at the centres.Asked how will be the election on Jan 5, Ahmad said, “I cannot say anything now. Let’s see what happens.”
The EC always hoped for free polls with all parties joining in, he said. “This is a legal process. We are going to hold the Jan 5 polls following this legal process. We are finished with all the preparations for this.”
The Election Commission’s letter for the law-and-order meeting also said that 15 law enforcers including two policemen with firearms will be deputed to general voting centres in the metropolitan areas while 16 law enforcers will be at the risky centres.
Seventeen and 18 law enforcers will guard the general centres and risky centres, respectively, outside the metropolitan areas.
The number of law enforcers in the general and risky centres at hill tracts and island areas will be 17 and 19, respectively.
A senior assistant secretary of the EC’s election management and coordination department said voting will take place at 18,123 centres. Centre-wise number of the members of law-enforcing agencies could be increased depending on the situation.
A total of 43,685,670 voters in 146 constituencies will chose their representatives from 386 contenders.