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Stuffing, boycott mark upazila polling

EC brushes aside allegations, BNP calls strike in 10 places for today

Staff Correspondent

A man stuffs ballots in presence of election officials at the Balaikathi Government Primary School polling centre at Bakerganj in Barisal during the first phase of Upazila election 
on Wednesday. — New Age photo A man stuffs ballots in presence of election officials at the Balaikathi Government Primary School polling centre at Bakerganj in Barisal during the first phase of Upazila election on Wednesday. — New Age photo

The suspension of polling in several stations, boycott by BNP and Jamaat leaders contesting the polls and widespread allegations of ballot box stuffing by ruling party men marked elections to 97 upazila councils that were held on Wednesday in the first phase.
BNP and Jamaat leaders running for the positions of chairman were leading the results in 62 upazilas till half an hour after midnight past Wednesday. BNP leaders won 28 positions, Awami League leaders 24 and Jamaat leaders 9 and UPDF leader 1.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party alleged that ruling Awami League activists aided by law enforcers chased out polling agents of the BNP and Jamaat leaders and tried to stuff boxes with ballots in about 590 stations.
Election authorities have plans to complete elections to all upazilas in serveral phases by March.
The BNP said that it it had lodged its complaints with the Election Commission in a faxed message on Wednesday.
The commission, however, brushed aside the allegations of massive irregularities in polling and claimed that elections were ‘largely free and fair’ with ‘some isolated incidents of irregularities.’
As for BNP’s allegations, the chief election commissioner, Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad, said that the commission would not take cognisance of allegations of any political party as the elections are not linked to political parties.
Reports from outlying districts said that Awami League activists had driven out polling agents of candidates the BNP supported and snatched away ballot papers and stuffed boxes in favour of candidates the Awami League supported, prompting the authorities to suspend polling in several stations.
There were 429 candidates in the race for 97 positions of chairman, 505 for 97 positions of chairman and 325 for for 97 positions of vice-chairman reserved for women.
In the 97 upazilas, there are 1,62,15,437 voters  and election authorities set up 6,889 polling stations across the country.
The reports said that attacks by ruling party men on the BNP and Jamaat activists led to sporadic clashes in districts such as Bogra, Sunamganj, Barisal, Khulna, Meherpur and Shariatpur, and the suspension of polling in several stations. At least 100 people, including polling officials, were injured in such clashes.
Voter turnout in the local government elections this time was comparatively lower than that in the upazila elections when they were held last in 2009.
The election officials estimated that the voter turnout could reach a maximum of 50 per cent while it was 67 per cent in the 2009 elections.
Chairman candidates backed by the BNP-led alliance at Sailakupa and Jhenaidah sadar in Jhenaidah, Gaurnadi and Bakerganj in Barisal, Lalmohan in Bhola, Gosairhat in Shariatpur, Kazipur in Sirajganj, Sonatola in Bogra, Bajitpur in Kishoreganj and Sujanagar in Pabna boycotted the polls midway alleging that the candidates backed by the Awami League had driven out their agents and done ballot stuffing in the presence of law enforcers.
The BNP units in the 10 places announced general strike in respective upazilas for today in protest at election irregularities.
Even AL leaders contesting the election without party support pulled out of the race accusing candidates backed by the party of resorting to ballot stuffing.
Law enforcers arrested dozens of people at places across the country for casting fake vote and sentenced them to varying terms in prison. A mobile court in Jhenaidah jailed an Awami League-backed union council chairman for three months and fined him Tk 50,000 for driving out agents of a candidate backed by the BNP.
Polling had been suspended for several hours at the Darikanda Government Primary School station at Nababganj in Dhaka after Awami League activists had tried to snatch away ballot boxes by driving out BNP activists.
The police also arrested several BNP activists when they were discharging duties as polling agents of candidates supported by the party at the Kanchannagar Model High School station.
Reports from Sirajganj said that Awami League activists had attacked activists of the BNP and Jamaat on several occasions in different polling stations such as Baraipara polling station at Saidabad and Rahimpur Government Primary School station at Ullapara.
Awami League lawmaker Habibe-e-Millat Munna visited different polling stations in the Sirajganj town in violation of the electoral code of conduct while Awami League activists were stuffing boxes with ballots at Chhontala and Bangala polling stations at Ullapara in Sirajganj in the presence of AL lawmaker Tanvir Imam. The lawmakers, however, brushed aside the allegations.
The New Age correspondent in Jhenaidah said that at least 10 people were injured in clashes centring on elections in the sadar upazila. The injured were sent to hospital. The clashes took place at Baliadanga, Dogachhi, Ganna and Mamunshia in the sadar upazila.
Polling at the Mathurapur Government Primary School at Mirzapur in Sailkupa had been suspended for hours when the miscreants snatched away ballot papers.
A magistrate arrested Dogachhi union council chairman in sadar upazila, Faizuddin, also an Awami League leader, and jailed him for three months and fined him Tk 50,000 for violation of the electoral code of conduct.
The police had arrested a polling agent, Nazmul Islam Milon, at the  Kanchannager Model High School centre in the Jhenaidah municipal area. He was working for a BNP leader contesting for the position of the upazila vice chairman. The police said that there was a case against the arrested for his involvement in violence in the locality.
The correspondent in Pabna said that BNP-backed chairman candidate Hazari Zakir Hossain Chunnu in Sujanagar upazila boycotted elections two hours after the polling had started and announced a general strike in the upazila for today, alleging that his agents had been driven out from the stations and supporters of ruling party-backed candidate captured some 50 polling centres and threatened BNP activists in the upazila during polling.
At least 50 supporters of the BNP-backed candidate, including polling agents, were injured in attacks by people of AL-backed candidates in places in the upazila.
The correspondent in Magura said that the presiding officer at the Ramnagar High School station, Abdul Barik, had snatched away the camera of a photojournalist when he was taking snaps stuffing by AL activists.
The correspondent in Khulna said that four people had become injured, two critically, in attacks by AL activists at the Chandanimahal Primary School station at Dighalia in the district.
The BNP-backed candidate Saifur Rahman Mintu alleged that Awami League activists had chased BNP activists out of the station, resulting in voters being panicked, leaving the place. Polling in the station remained suspended for about half an hour.
He alleged that AL activists had captured most of the 49 centres by driving away BNP activists and polling agents. Later, AL activists stuffed ballot boxes in some centres at Senhati and Barakpur.
The correspondent in Bogra said that presiding officers had to suspend polling in five stations at Sonatola when AL activists snatched away ballot boxes and ballot papers after driving out polling agents of the BNP-backed candidate. Polling had also been suspended for a while at the Ganakpara station of Sariakandi in Bogra as Awami League activists had tried to snatch away ballot boxes.
The police fired about 25 rubber bullets to contain violence at Sonatola when the Awami League activists tried to snatch away ballot papers and boxes.
The correspondent in Jessore said that the police had fired two gunshots as about 100 people, said to be supporters of the Awami League-backed upazila chairman candidate Robin Adhikary Becha when they captured the Rajghat Jafarpur High School polling station.
Awami League activists also stopped activists of the BNP-backed candidate Nurul Haque Mollah entering the stations set up at Hizbullah Dakhil Madrassah and Shahid Nazibar Government Primary School.
The correspondent in sylhet said that local leaders and activists of the  Awami League had snatched ballot papers from the polling officer at the Fatehpur Government Primary School station at Dewkalas of Bishwanath.
At least 10 people, including the presiding officer, became injured at Duarapar in Sunamganj when Awami League activists had attacked Jamaat activists, prompting the suspension of polling for several hours at the Birsong Government Primary School centre. The presiding officer had been held hostage for an hour.
The correspondent in Chittagong said that the BNP-backed candidate in Mirsarai alleged that Awami League activists had captured at least 20 to 25 centres at the instruction of the public works minister, Mosharraf Hossain. The minister, however, brushed aside the allegations.
The correspondent in Narsingdi said that Detective Branch had arrested two Awami League activists in possession of a pistol and eight bullets at the Sekendardi polling station of Palash.
The correspondent in Gazipur said that the BNP-backed chairman candidate had alleged that Awami League activists had captured nine polling stations at Kapasia.
The correspondent in Barisal said that the BNP-backed candidate and BNP leaders contesting the elections had boycotted the elections alleging that the administration and election officials had been biased toward the ruling party and did not heed their allegations of ballot stuffing.
The correspondent in Rajshahi said that polling in the only upazila in the district, Mohanpur, was peaceful.




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