Taposh wins, Atiq leads amid intimidation, rigging

Ahammad Foyez, Tapos Kanti Das and Emran Hossain | Published: 10:11, Feb 01,2020 | Updated: 02:26, Feb 02,2020


Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh and M Atiqul Islam

Ruling Awami League candidate Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh unofficially declared elected while M Atiqul Islam was set to be declared elected in Saturday’s elections to the Dhaka south and north city corporations allegedly marred by low turnout, vote rigging, violence, muscle flexing and forcing voters to vote for AL candidates coupled with complications to handle electronic voting machines.

Returning officer for the Dhaka south city polls Abdul Baten declared Taposh as elected unofficially at about 12:40am Sunday while till 1:30 am Atiqul was leading the polls bagging 4,14,802 of the 24,53,194 votes as his nearest rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s Tabith Awal polled 2,42,841 votes in 1,205 of the 1,318 polling centres.

In the south city, BNP’s Ishraque Hossain got 2,36,512 votes. The total sating was 7,11,488 or 29 per cent of the total votes.

At a post-polls press conference at the Nirbachon Bhaban, chief election commissioner KM Nurul Huda said that the turnout of voters would be below 30 per cent while commissioner Mahbub Talukder said that 100 per cent vote casting was not possible in any centre using EVMs.

About the absence of polling agents of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party candidates, Nurul Huda said that it was the responsibility of the parties to give and keep their agents in polling stations.

He said that the commission got no complaint about ousting BNP polling agents from centres and no one could cast other’s vote with EVM.

About the allegation that AL activists cast others’ votes pushing the EVM button just after verification of their identities, the CEC said that he got no such complaints.

Mahbub said that the commission was now relieved of the stigma of ballot stuffing overnight before the polling day due to the use of EVMs.

He said that he was not aware of the reasons for the presence of the ‘one side’ around the polling centres and the absence of the ‘other’.

Mahbub said that the voter turnout would be about 25 per cent.    

Immediately after the polling, BNP and AL leaders and activists clashed in front of the BNP central office at Naya Paltan at about 5:30pm, when an AL procession was passing by a BNP rally protesting against ‘massive rigging’.

Police brought the violence between the ‘two groups’ under control, said Dhaka Metropolitan Police Motijheel division deputy commissioner Jamil Hassan.

Ouster of the opposition polling agents was a common allegation at different polling stations while many voters alleged that AL activists or polling staff cast their votes after verification of their identity fingerprints on the machines.

The allegations of incidents of AL people preventing voters from entering booths after their identity verifications or accompanying voters forcibly in the booths were found commonplace.

In many cases, polling officials were seen entering booths with voters.

In the name of assisting voters, AL polling agents at places were found to dictate voters to cast their votes for their candidates.

Incidents of attacks and counter-attacks took place between AL and BNP councillor candidates and AL rebels.

Two south city BNP councillor candidates were attacked when they were going to cast their vote.

Ward 16 councillor candidate Sirajul Islam was attacked while entering Kathalbagan Khan Hasan School with his agent, alleged BNP.

In another incident, ward 18 candidate Jahangir Patwari and two others were injured in an attack allegedly by Chhatra League activists while entering Government Laboratory School.

Journalists were barred from taking photos by AL leaders and activists, cops in uniform but without nameplates and even election officials. They also asked journalists to get out of different polling stations.

Three journalists were injured in attacks.

Online news portal reporter Mostafizur Rahman Sumon was attacked allegedly by AL councillor candidate at Rayerbazar Sadek Khan Road at about 11:00am. He was rushed to ZH Sikder Women’s Medical College Hospital and then shifted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital. photojournalist Osman Goni was attacked while recording video at Tikatuli.

PBA news agency special correspondent Zisad Ikbal was assaulted at Jane Alam School at Nikunja at about 10:00am.

A group of people supporting the AL mayoral candidate for Dhaka North City beat up an old man at the Chand Mia Housing community centre at Mohammadpur for casting vote for BNP candidate and that too in presence of police and a mobile court while a Border Guard Bangladesh patrol team was passing by the polling station at about 11:00am, witnesses said.

Mohammadpur police station sub-inspector, Mukul Baroi, on duty there, told New Age, ‘I heard that the voter was beaten by AL men for voting for “sheaf of paddy”.’

Mohammadpur police station assistant sub-inspector Nazrul Islam was seen watching voters inside the booths at Mohammadpur Government Girls’ College and telling the polling agents that voters wearing AL badges were casting votes for BNP.

BNP’s north city mayoral candidate Tabith Awal’s chief polling agent Moazzem Hossain Alal came under a bomb attack at Manipur while visiting Monipur High School and College centre at Ibrahimpur around noon, said Tabith’s media coordinator Mahmud Hasan.

Reports of crude bomb blasts were received from at least three spots.

After casting his vote at Rajdhani High School, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan told the media, ‘No unwanted incidents have occurred so far.’

After casting his vote at the IES School and College in Uttara, chief election commissioner Nurul Huda said that he was happy with the overall atmosphere.

About alleged ouster of polling agents, he said, ‘Polling agents driven out of centres should go to the presiding officers, magistrates and law enforcers and enter polling stations with their help.’

He claimed, ‘The people’s response to the EVM is positive. Those who’ve faced difficulties in using the EVM are learning about it at the centre.’

Casting vote along with his wife at Ispahani Girls’ High School and College at Moghbazar, election commissioner Mahbub Talukdar said that he found no polling agent of BNP mayoral candidates.

Asked if BNP agents were ousted, he said, ‘I said I didn’t find any agent….You said that there was an agent in the morning, now there is no agent. So you can find out why there is no agent.’

AL mayoral candidate Atiqul Islam and its councillor candidate Abu Taher’s supporters were seen gathering inside Gabtoli Government Primary School. No polling agents of others candidates were found at the polling station.

‘No BNP agent came to me in the morning,’ said presiding officer Md Sanaullah.

Almost a similar situation was found at Begum Nurjahan Memorial Girls High School near the Japan Garden City at Mohammadpur.

No polling agent of BNP was present at none of its six polling rooms but AL agents were present at all the six.

In Dhaka south city, no polling agent for the BNP mayoral candidate was found at one polling centre at Banglabazar Government Girls High School and two at Pogos Laboratory School and College under Kotwali, three at Madrassah Mohammadia Arabia and one at Jatrabari Government Primary School, two at Matuail Paschimpara Government High School and two at Matuail Adarsha High School, two at Armanitola Government High School and two at Engineering University Girls’ College.

At almost all the polling centres, New Age photojournalists were barred from taking photos by the election officials, police and AL activists while the voters had to vote with AL activists guarding them in the booths.

In a polling room of Banglabazar Government Girls High School at 8:30am, two people with AL badges were guarding the booth while nine others were pretending to be polling agents, who were sitting in two benches.

Abul Bashar and Md Abul Bashar Hawlader, who claimed themselves as AL polling agents, said that there was a BNP agent, but presently he was not there.

Asked for their identity cards, Md Abul Bashar Hawlader had no identity card while Abul Bashar’s card had no photo or electoral symbol.

The two immediately left the room but more people wearing badges for the AL candidate gathered in the room.

The election officials, police and AL activists there prevented the New Age photojournalist from taking any photo.

Presiding officer Mamun Miah said that there was no irregularity at his centre and ‘the election commission’s directive was that none would be allowed to take any photo at the centre.

Similar situation was seen at the polling centres at Pogos Laboratory School and College between 9:00am and 10:15am and ward councillor candidate Md Sumon Bhuiyan appeared at the gate of the school.

He was obstructed by cops from entering the centre. When he was allowed to enter, he told the presiding officer that his polling agents had come at 7:30am and as the election officials had asked them to come after half an hour, the AL activists took away all their papers and none of the agents were allowed to enter the centre.

When Sumon came out of the centre, AL supporters in hundreds chased him and his supporters out of the area.

Presiding officer Md Alam Mia said that the snatching incidents might have happened outside the centre and they could not receive Sumon’s polling agents at 7:30am as they were yet to begin the work.

At Madrassah Mohammadia Arabia, third floor polling centre’s presiding officer Ananda Banik was seen to drive out three AL activists who were guarding the balloting booths at about 11:45am.

As the presiding officer left the room, the AL activists again occupied the room in five minutes.

Matuail Paschimpara Government Primary School presiding officer Shahnewaz Bhuiyan did not allow any journalist to enter the polling station.

Though the centre was meant for female voters, a good number of AL men were seen there.

Three women in a group were seen returning without casting vote. They and said that they saw the AL men forcing voters to cast votes for AL. ‘They even cancelled votes cast by a woman,’ one of them alleged.

AL activists took control of almost all centres and barred, humiliated and even beat up opposition agents and journalists.

From 8:00am to 4:00pm a huge number of the AL activists were present at the centres and roaming freely around the city.

At places, police frantically pressurised election officials at the Uttara polling centres for access to electronic voting machines as the voter turnout remained abnormally low even in the afternoon.

Besides, young AL activists, who were all over the polling centres and the adjacent areas since the morning, had practically taken the overall control of the polling centres by 1:30pm.

And the bands of supporters stood behind the police to get election officials to open the electronic voting machines for them, witnesses said.

Uttara’s Milestone School and College centre presiding officer Abdus Salam said that the assistant presiding officers had access electronic ballot to help voters in special cases such as fingerprint mismatches.

‘But the assistant presiding officers can use their special power for casting 1 per cent of the votes,’ he said.

He said that the assistant presiding officers must inform the returning officer if they cast more than 1 per cent of the votes using their special power.

Immediately after the polling, BNP secretary general Mirza Fakrul Islam Alamgir at a briefing at the party central office alleged that the elections were rigged and the prime minister’s speech after casting vote at City College centre was tantamount to interfere in the polls.

After casting his vote at Viqarunnisa Noon School and College, Jatiya Oikya Front convener Kamal Hossain said that voters were not coming to polling stations as they had no confidence in the election system.

Kamal, also the Gono Forum president, said that he was receiving complaints that BNP agents were being driven out of and obstructed from entering polling centres while people were facing difficulties in casting votes.

Communist Party of Bangladesh said that the Election Commission had failed to hold the elections in a participatory manner.

The total number of DNC voters is 30,10,273—15,49,567 males and 14,60,706 females—while the total number of DSC voters is 24,53,194—12,93,441 males and 11,59,753 females.

A total of six mayoral candidates contested in the north city—AL’s Atiqul Islam, BNP’s Tabith Awal, Islami Andolan Bangladesh’s Sheikh Md Fazle Bari Masud, Communist Party of Bangladesh’s Ahammad Sajedul Huq Rubel, National People’s Party’s Anisur Rahman Dewan and Progressive Democratic Party’s Shahin Khan.

Seven mayoral candidates contested in the south city. They are AL’s Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh, BNP’s Ishraque Hossain, Bangladesh Congress’s M Aktar Uzzaman Ayatulla, Islamic Andolan Bangladesh’s M Abdur Rahman, Jatiya Party’s Muhammad Saifuddin, NPP’s M Baharane Sultan Baharand and Gono Front’s Abdus Samad Sujon.

CPB president Mujahidul Islam Selim and general secretary Mohammad Shah Alam, in a statement said that the voting results would not reflect the opinions of the voters.

Sajedul Huq Rubel, the mayor candidate of party for the north city also said that the commission failed to hold participatory elections.

Islami Andolan Bangladesh had rejected the results.

In a statement amir of the party Syed Muhammad Rezaul Karim said that the voters could not cast their votes as AL leaders and activists barred them from entering the vote centres.

He demanded re-elections and resignation of the commission for their failures to hold free and fair mayoral elections.

No incident of suspending polling took place in the polls as the elections held at 1,318 polling stations including — 2,468 in the north and 1,150 in the south.

The total number of north city voters is 30,10,273—15,49,567 males and 14,60,706 females— while the total number of DSC voters is 24,53,194 — 12,93,441 males and 11,59,753 females.

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