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97 upazilas go to polls today

Harassment against BNP, Jamaat leaders alleged

Taib Ahmed

Ninety seven Upazilas in 40 districts are going to polls today (Wednesday) in the first phase of staggered Upazila Parishad elections amidst allegations of ‘attacks and harassment’ on candidates belonging to the opposition camp.
Though it is a non-partisan election, both the ruling Bangladesh Awami League and opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party are taking part in the Upazila election, prompting a tough contest featuring national political issues in the local body polls.
In the first phase of the staggered local elections, 102 Upazilas were set to go to polls, but election in four Upazilas were suspended by the Election Commission and for one it was rescheduled for February 24.
The campaigns saw 429 candidates in the race for 97 position of chairmen, 505 are seeking vice-chairmen’s offices and 325 female candidates are running for 97 positions of vice-chairwomen.
A total of 1,62,15,437 registered voters are expected to cast their votes in 6,900 polling stations across the country. 
The EC has taken tight security measures to ensure the polls in a free and fair manner. Apart from regular law enforcers including Rapid Action Battalion, the authorities have deployed army troops and Border Guards Bangladesh in the election bound Upazilas. EC officials said one platoon of troops would be deployed in each Upazila where polls would take place tomorrow.
A total of 14-15 members of law enforcers including a policeman will be on duty at each of the polling stations.
The EC deployed 98 judicial magistrates and 392 executive magistrates to check electoral irregularities by holding mobile courts.
The government declared public holiday for today in the 97 Upazilas. 
A total of 6,589 local and 71 foreign observers will be monitoring the first phase of Upazila polls.
New Age correspondents from outlaying districts reported that the authorities have taken all necessary measures to ensure fair polls though there were incidents of attacks on the candidates belonging to the opposition camp and their campaigners on the eve of the polls.
In some Upazilas including in Shariatpur, Meherpur and Barisal, police raided houses of local leaders and activists of Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led alliance on Monday night and picked up several hundred opposition activists.
The BNP on Tuesday wrote a letter to the Election Commission accusing it of turning a deaf ear to the ‘ongoing harassment’ of the candidates belonging to the BNP-led alliance as well as on their campaigners in the ensuing Upazila elections.
‘Indiscriminate attacks were being carried out on the candidates belonging to BNP. Even attacks were being made on the houses and family members of the opposition candidates,’ BNP leader Ruhul Kabir Rizvi told reporters after submitting the letter to the EC.
Shariatpur correspondent reported that activists of AL-backed chairman candidate in Bhederganj upazila, Altab Hossain Shoial, on Tuesday attacked men of BNP-backed chairman candidate Anowar Hossain Majhi.
New Age Pabna Correspondent reported that Pabna district unit BNP on Tuesday accused AL-backed candidate for misusing power in Sujanagar Upazila Parishad election. BNP alleged that BNP-backed candidate could not campaign properly due to obstacles created by the ruling party men.  
EC, however, denied allegation of attacks and harassment on the BNP activists.  
Election commissioner Shah Nawaz told reporters on Monday that the EC had taken all the steps necessary so that the voters can go to the polling stations to freely cast their votes without any intimidation.
He claimed that the overall law and order situation was normal in the election bound Upazilas and that polling would be peaceful.
When his attention was drawn to the BNP’s allegation, the election commissioner said if someone makes specific allegations to the returning officers, the returning officers are supposed to take action.
The Upazilas going to polls on February 19 are : Khagrachari sadar, Ramgar, Mahalchari, Matiranga, Panchari and Manikchari in Khagrachari, Kaliganj, Jhenaidah sadar, Kotchandpur and Sailakupa in Jhenaidah, Magura sadar and Sreepur in Magura, Lalmohan in Bhola, Shibalay, Daulatpur, Singair and Saturia in Manikganj, Kapasia in Gazipur, Pangsha and Baliakandi in Rajbari, Panchagarh sadar, Debiganj, Boda and Atwari in Panchagarh, Taraganj and Mithapukur in Rangpur, Bhurungamari and Ulipur in Kurigram, Saghata and Gobindaganj in Gaibandha, Sariakandi, Sherpur, Dhunat, Nandigram, Dupchanchia and Sonatala in Bogra, Nachole in Chapainababganj, Singra in Natore, Sirajganj sadar, Raiganj, Ullapara and Kazipur in Sirajganj, Meherpur sadar in Meherpur, Bheramara in Kushtia, Kalia in Narail, Jamalpur sadar and Sarishabari in Jamalpur, Kashiani and Maksudpur in Gopalganj, Kalkini in Madaripur, Bhederganj, Damudda, Jajira and Gosairhat in Shariatpur, Doarabazar, Dakkhin Sunamganj and Chhatak in Sunamganj, Kulaura in Moulavibazar, Madhabpur and Bahubal in Habiganj, Kaharol and Khansama in Dinajpur, Dimla, Saidpur and Jaldhaka in Nilphamari, Phulbari in Kurigram, Mahadevpur and Raninagar in Noagoan, Santhia, Aatgharia and Sujanagar in Pabna, Kushtia sadar in Kushtia, Abhaynagar in Jessore, Bakerganj and Gaurnadi in Barisal, Durgapur and Kendua in Netrakona, Bajitpur, Nikli and Karimganj in Kishoreganj, Dohar and Nababganj in Dhaka, Palash and Belabo in Narsingdi, Bishwanath, Zakiganj, Kompaniganj, Golapganj, Gowainghat and Jaintapur in Sylhet, Hathazari and Mirsarai in Chittagong, Assassuni in Satkhira, Mohanpur in Rajshahi and Dhighalia and Koyra in Khulna.

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