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Voters fear violence despite heightened security

Taib Ahmed

Members of the Border Guard Bangladesh patrol a road at Lalbagh in the capital on Friday as the government goes to unilaterally hold the 10th national polls on January 5. — Indrajit Ghosh 
 Members of the Border Guard Bangladesh patrol a road at Lalbagh in the capital on Friday as the government goes to unilaterally hold the 10th national polls on January 5. — Indrajit Ghosh

Despite heightened security measures taken by the Election Commission, many anticipate a low turnout of voters in the 10th parliamentary elections to be held on January 5 as fear of trouble may prevent many voters from going to polling stations amidst the opposition-enforced blockade.
Many voters said miscreants might make hit-and-run attacks on the polling day however strong the security measures might be and said they might not go to the polling stations to cast votes.
 Such fear is deeper among the voters in the rural areas particularly in the remote districts.
 Even ruling Awami League’s election-steering committee co-chairman and the party’s adviser HT Imam himself said the polls might not be completely peaceful. ‘You do not know from where miscreants would hurl bombs.’
Bachchu Mia, a grocer in Shyampur area, said he would not go to the polling station. ‘Given the way bombs are being hurled here and there, how can one assure you that there would be no violence on the election day. So, I will not take the risk.’
Mirpur’s Sohel Ahmed, who works for a buying house, said he was doubtful whether the authorities would be able to ensure foolproof security amid growing political violence. ‘I will not go to the polling station.’
 With the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led opposition enforcing a nationwide blockade aiming at resisting the January 5 ‘unilateral polls’, the Election Commission has taken strong security measures deploying ‘maximum number’ of law enforcers to each of the polling stations besides separate strike forces of armed forces, paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh and Rapid Action Battalion.
 The EC plans to deploy 15 law enforcers, including two police and two armed Ansars, to each polling station outside the metropolitan areas while the number of law enforcers will be 16 at important polling stations.
Besides, the numbers of law enforcers in the metropolitan and remote areas would range between 16 and 19. 
 The EC on Wednesday asked the returning officers to make arrangements for security blankets around all polling centres from Saturday for the January 5 polls.
 In a letter to the returning officers, it said movement of vehicles and people around the polling centres should be restricted. Patrols by mobile teams and strike forces of law enforcers should also be intensified, said the letter.
 According to the EC’s decisions, more or less one battalion of troops has been deployed to each of the district headquarters as ‘strike force’ under ‘instructions to assist the civil administration.’
The meeting decided that the armed forces would be deployed at upazila and thana levels in coordination with the returning officers and they would assist the regular law enforcers if the returning officer sought their cooperation.
 EC officials said about 50,000 members of armed forces are on election duty. A total of about 17,000 BGB personnel are on election duty from Wednesday.
 They said over 8,000 members of Rapid Action Battalion, over 2,20,000 members from Ansars and about 80,000 police personnel would be on election duty.
Besides, more than 400 executive magistrates would be on duty across the country to prevent trouble on the polling day.
As much as Tk 144 crore out of a total of Tk 210 crore of election fund would be spent on maintaining law and order in elections to 147 constituencies.
 The expenditure has come down to more than half the projected amount as candidates in 153 constituencies, out of 300, have been elected uncontested, said officials at the Election Commission.
The commission has slapped a ban on exposition of arms from December 22 to January 7 and has asked the home ministry to issue a circular in this regard.
A ban on the movement of motorcycles would be imposed in January 3-7 and such ban would be applicable to movement of all types of vehicles from midnight January 4 to midnight January 5.
Even these ‘foolproof’ security measures do not seem to have earn the confidence of voters. A photo-studio owner in Gulshan, Swaran Bikash Barua, like many others, feared violence on the polling day and decided not to go to to the polling station.
New Age correspondents from different districts reported that many voters said they were unwilling to go to polling stations to cast vote on the election day in fear of violence.




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