ELECTIONS to three city authorities — the city corporations of Barisal, Rajshahi and Sylhet — begin, with the Election Commission’s order of July 17 for the law enforcement agencies not to arrest political party leaders and activists without warrants or harass them largely being ignored. The High Court’s order of July 24 for the government and the police not to arrest and harass leaders and activists of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the people campaigning for its mayoral candidate in the Barisal City Corporation elections and of July 26 for the government and the police not to arrest and harass political party leaders and activists campaigning for elections to the Sylhet city authorities have also been largely flouted. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party in Barisal alleged that the police were arresting and harassing party activists in breach of the court order. The BNP’s mayoral candidate in Sylhet viewed the incident of his office being set on fire reportedly by Awami League activists and the arrest of his people in a case filed in this connection as a conspiracy to keep the BNP off electioneering. The BNP’s mayoral candidate in Rajshahi alleged that 90 per cent of the presiding and polling officers were chosen from among Awami League activists, which could lead the polling not to be free and fair.
With all such allegations coming up by candidates of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the political rival of the ruling Awami League, law enforcers have, meanwhile, listed most of the polling stations in all the three city corporation areas as risky. The Election Commission has been informed that 113 out of 123 polling stations in the Barisal city areas are risky and 50 of them are ‘very risky.’ Eighty out of 134 polling stations in Sylhet and 114 out of 138 polling stations in Rajshahi have also been classified as risky. The commission’s secretary said that they had worked out a plan to deploy additional law enforcers, in addition to the deployment of the Border Guard Bangladesh personnel as striking force from early morning on the polling day, to keep law and order at, in its phrase, ‘very important, which the law enforcers call ‘risky’, polling stations. Yet this does not dispel the popular perception that polling could be marred, in view of generally the way the elections to city authorities in Khulna, on May 15, and Gazipur, on June 26, were held and especially the commission’s reluctance at taking action against the breach of the electoral code of conduct, levelled mostly against the ruling Awami League candidates and their people, during campaigns in the run-up to the elections to the three city corporations at hand.
The Election Commission, which has largely lost its credibility as an institution in what happened during the city corporation elections in Khulna and Gazipur should have attended to the allegations of repeated breaches of the electoral code of conduct and levelled the playing field by not arresting and harassing opponent leaders and activists. It is now expected that the commission would ensure that voters could exercise their right to franchise in a free and fair atmosphere in elections to the three city corporation today.
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