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JS elections today amid boycott, violence

Taib Ahmed

The 10th national elections will be held today amid widespread violence and boycott by almost all major political parties except the ruling Awami League and its smaller allies.
Besides Awami League, 85 candidates of the Jaitya Party are in the election race – many of them willingly and unwillingly – as a confusing situation arose after the JP chief HM Ershad was picked up by intelligence soon after he had announced boycott of the polls. 
Leaders of most of the political parties, including Bangladesh Nationalist Party chairperson Khaleda Zia, civil society members and foreign diplomats earlier urged the government to cancel today’s ‘one-sided’ election and asked for inclusive polls.
Over 52 per cent of the voters, including president Abdul Hamid and prime minister Sheikh Hasina will not have the chance to cast votes as polls are not taking place to 153 constituencies following the ‘election uncontested’ of candidates to those constituencies.
Only 4,39,38,938 out 9,19,65,977 registered voters would get the opportunity to cast votes between 8:00am and 4:00pm without break in 18,208 polling stations. The government declared a public holiday in the areas where elections are going to take place.
Despite heightened security measures taken by the Election Commission, the opposition activists from Friday night to Saturday evening set at least 80 polling stations on fire and burnt election materials at some places.
At least 130 people were killed and the country experienced over 24 days of transport blockade since November 25 after the polls schedules were announced.
The 10th parliamentary election is being held exclusively for the ruling party which already has 153 elected lawmakers without contest. Only 12 out of 41 registered political parties, including the ruling AL and its coalition partners, fielded 390 candidates.
The opposition political parties, including the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led alliance, are boycotting the polls and have vowed to ‘resist’ the ‘farcical’ polls.  Candidates contesting the polls on Awami League ticket have been instructed to ensure by whatever means possible at least 60 per cent turnout of voters at the polling stations, insiders in the ruling party said.
The government has not allowed the opposition leader Khaleda Zia, who urged the people to boycott the polls, to come out of the Gulshan residence since she announced the ‘march for democracy’ on December 29 to say ‘no’ to the polls. Intelligence personnel on December 12, 2013, picked Jatiya Party chairman HM Ershad up from his Baridhara house and took him straight to Combined Military Hospital after he announced boycott of the polls.
Only four foreign observers and maximum 15,000 local poll watchers have collected identity cards to oversee the elections.
EC officials said about 50,000 armed forces personnel are on election duty. About 17,000 Border Guard Bangladesh personnel have been on election duty since Wednesday. They said over 8,000 personnel of Rapid Action Battalion, over 2,20,000 Ansars and 80,000 police would maintain law and order today. Besides, more than 400 executive magistrates would be on duty across the country to prevent sabotage on the polling day.
As much as Tk 144 crore out of a total Tk 210 crore of the election fund would be spent on maintaining law and order in the elections to 147 constituencies.
The Awami League fielded candidates for 246 constituencies, HM Ershad-led Jatiya Party for 85 constituencies, Anwar Hossain Manju-led Jatiya Party for 28 constituencies, Hasanul Haque Inu-led Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal for 24 constituencies, Workers Party of Bangladesh for 18 constituencies, newly floated Bangladesh Nationalist Front for 22 constituencies, National Awami Party for six constituencies, Bangladesh Tariqat Federation for three constituencies, Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish for two constituencies and Ganatantri Party, Gana Front and Bangladesh Islami Front have one candidate each. A total of 109 candidates are contesting the poll independently.
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.

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