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Violence mars poll in Bangladesh

Haroon Habib
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Reports of low turnout; at least 20 killed as opposition tries to spoil election

Choice made:A Bangladeshi woman emerges from an enclosure after marking her ballot paper at a polling station in Dhaka, on Sunday.— PHOTO: AP
Choice made:A Bangladeshi woman emerges from an enclosure after marking her ballot paper at a polling station in Dhaka, on Sunday.— PHOTO: AP

The much-awaited Bangladeshi election was marred by violence as the eight hours-long voting closed at 4 p.m. with reports of low turnout because of panic among voters and widespread boycott by the opposition.

Polling ended in all 147 parliamentary constituencies across the country amid attacks by the anti-poll activists which forced the Election Commission to suspend voting in at least 161 centres.

No opposition

A total of 390 candidates from the ruling Awami League-led alliance contested in the 147 constituencies where there was no formidable opposition. Interestingly, in many constituencies, the ruling party candidates faced formidable party rebels.

The total number of polling centres was 18,208.

The situation worsened from Friday night when opposition activists set on fire as many as 100 polling centres over 49 centres on Saturday and Sunday. They also beat a presiding officer to death in Thakurgaon .

At least 20 people, mostly anti-election campaigners but also poll officials and members of law enforcement agencies, were killed.

Pro-opposition agitators tried to foil the elections boycotted by the BNP and Jamaat.

Reports said scores of polling stations – which are mostly primary and secondary schools — and election material have either been set on fire or vandalised, forcing the law enforcers to open fire in many places across the country.

The election commission said it is yet to determine the actual percentage of vote cast, but remarked low turnout was predicted following boycott by the main opposition party and also due to violent attacks on the polling centres and poll officials.

Political observers also identified a fear factor among voters, under panic because of violent tactics of the opposition combine, even though the election was meant to meet up a vital constitutional necessity to avoid constitutional void.

Most of the deaths during the day were reported from the northern districts of Dinajpur, Rangpur, Nilphamari, Thakurgaon and Naogaon. The other casualties were from Feni, Munshiganj, Chittagong, and Laxmipur districts.

Four more persons had been killed earlier in poll-related violence between Saturday night and early Sunday morning.

Sticking to their demand for poll-time caretaker government, the opposition boycotted the 10th parliament election and announced a two-day hartal in addition to an indefinite national blockade to resist the election which it termed ‘one-sided’.

In the greater Rangpur region where H.M. Ershad enjoys traditional stronghold, the turnout was exceptionally low.

Gen. Ershad, an ally of ruling Awami League, abruptly boycotted the polls, but his wife, Raushan Ershad, led a faction of the Jatiya Party to join the election.

A total 12 parties, mostly like minded, joined the election, while the BNP and Jamaat-led 18 party rightist and Islamist alliance boycotted it. The turnout is likely to be low compared to the previous election.

Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmed admitted the low turnout was low as several political parties did not join the election fray.

However, the Election Commission (EC) is yet to release an official statement in this regard.

‘One-sided’

The Bangladesh Jatiya Sangsad — Parliament — has 300 seats, of which 153 seats have returned winners without contest.

The total number of voters is 91,965,977, of which, 45,841,905 are women and 46,124,072 are men.

The Khaleda Zia-led opposition alliance has called a 48-hour fresh back-to-back countrywide hartal from Monday to demand Sunday’s general elections be scrapped.

BNP acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said in a statement the people have rejected the ‘one-sided election’.

However, the ruling Awami League, which was determined to go ahead with the election to “foil BNP, Jamaat’s conspiracy” to create a constitutional void, has expressed satisfaction . The ruling party claims that the election was held “properly”, even though the Opposition stayed away.


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