REF: The Awami League-backed candidates have swept the city corporation elections in Dhaka and Chittagong marred by widespread electoral fraud.
Polling ended on Tuesday with BNP-endorsed candidates deciding to boycott the election midway, alleging intimidation, booth capture, and the stuffing of ballot boxes with bogus votes.
Journalists covering the elections to the Dhaka North, Dhaka South and Chittagong city corporations were in many cases witness to the malpractices.
Awami League Dhaka North mayoral candidate Annisul Huq tried to play them down as ‘fouls’ committed in a high-strung game.
But the Election Commission, constitutionally empowered and obliged to ensure free and fair elections, saw no wrongdoing.
Despite allegations of widespread rigging and disruptions, the EC secretary maintained the polls were properly held.
“The Commission did not receive complaints. If some come in, the commission will look into them,” Md Sirajul Islam said despite a deluge of poll hijack reports reaching the media.
He added that the EC was forced to stop voting at three centres in Dhaka. They are located in Bongshal’s Suritola Primary School, Jurain Ashraf Master Ideal School and in a school at Khilgaon.
There were allegations of unbridled casting of fake votes in a host of other centres.
However, after nightlong vote counting, Awami League-endorsed Annisul Huq was elected Dhaka North City Corporation’s mayor securing 460,117 votes.
His rival BNP-supported Tabith Mohammed Awal got 325,080 votes.
The ruling party-backed Sayeed Khokon, son of Dhaka’s first elected mayor Mohammad Hanif, was elected Dhaka South mayor with a massive 535,296 votes.
His nearest contender BNP’s Mirza Abbas got 294,291 votes.
In Chittagong, AJM Nasir Uddin, general secretary of the ruling party’s metropolitan unit, became the mayor of the port city in his first attempt at election to public office.
He drew 475,361 votes while his competitor BNP-endorsed candidate M Manjur Alam polled 304,837.
What journalists saw
bdnews24.com Correspondent Sajidul Haque found Narinda Govt Primary School voting centre’s Presiding Officer Obaidul Islam stamping ballots for AL-backed Dhaka South mayor runner Sayeed Khokon.
In Chittagong, bdnews24.com can confirm reports of at least four centres being taken over by ruling party supporters.
All this was happening in the presence of election officers and law-enforcing agencies.
bdnews24.com correspondents in the port city visited 20 centres on Tuesday.
Supporters of candidates for general reserved councillor posts were seen freely stuffing ballot boxes at some centres.
Stamped ballot papers were seen lying around in others. In some centres, stamped ballot papers were in excess of the number of voters.
In the space provided on the ballots for voters to put the rectangular seal to indicate their choice of candidates, round seals of the presiding officers were found stamped on some of them.
The voters who failed to enter the centres after being barred allegedly by police and pro-government activists vented their frustration on journalists.
One of them outside the Fateyabad College centre asked, “Why have you come? Everything is finished. Is there any need for journalists now?”
Polling centres at the BCIR Laboratory High School and Oli Ahmed Government Primary School were captured by supporters of Awami League-endorsed AJM Nasir Uddin soon after voting started at 8am.
bdnews24.com Correspondent Mitoon Choudhury found ballot papers, stamped on Nasir’s Elephant symbol, scattered on the ground.
Similar scenes were found at the voting centres at Fateyabad City Corporation Girls’ High School and Fateyabad College between 10:45am and 11:15am Tuesday.
A few handmade bombs were exploded at the BCIR Laboratory School centre around 7:30am, said Presiding Officer Md Abul Hashem.
He said several ballot papers were snatched from two booths and some of them were returned, but only after they were stamped on Elephant.
Around 10am, Magistrate Nure Alam Bhuiyan visited the centre and told reporters that the presiding officer ‘did not complain’ of any untoward incident.
Some 1,500 votes out of the 2,510 at Oli Ahmed Primary School centre were cast within two hours after the balloting started, said Presiding Officer Fazlul Quader.
By 10:30am, the centre was empty.
The bdnews24.com correspondent saw a procession of supporters of ‘elephant’ symbol while entering the centre.
“We could not cast our vote. Armed people captured the centre since morning and were stamping ballots on Elephant symbol,” said local resident SM Ismali Babu.
Chittagong’s Additional Superintendent of Police Mostafizur Rahman told reporters: “We are seeing the same thing that you are seeing. Nothing unpleasant happened here. No one complained.”
Asked why there were no voters at 10:30am, he replied: “Those manning that centre can answer that.”
Security forces at the Fateyabad City Corporation Girls’ High School apparently sprang into action as soon as journalists reached there on receiving complaints of rigging.
Several ballot papers, stamped on ‘elephant’ symbol, were found scattered at the polling station.
Elephant-symbol supporters at Fateybad College centre pounced on journalists when they tried to enter there around 11:15am.
Voters lined up in queue outside the centre. But they were not allowed to go in. Police took no action against those who were stopping the voters from going in.
Election officials and police refused to act against a group of youths casting fake votes at the Kabi Nazrul Government College centre in Dhaka South.
Ten people were casting others’ votes in booth No. 3 at the centre in front of journalists around 2pm on Tuesday.
They were seen stamping the ballot papers one after another.
When a journalist photographed the glaring electoral fraud, a man named ‘Abu’ snatched the camera and deleted the photos.
He asked another man, ‘Sayem’, standing next to him, to summon their ‘people’ to deal with the journalists.
Abu told journalists: “Let us do our job and you do yours.”
Presiding Officer Abul Kalam Azad claimed there was no ‘unusual situation’ at his centre.
As journalists drew his attention to the casting of fake votes, he said: “You might have seen that but I haven’t.”
When such bogus votes were being stuffed into the ballot box, four polling officers along with police and Ansar personnel stood on the balcony.