The staggered Upazila Parishad elections are getting underway on Wednesday about a month and a half after the violence-scarred parliamentary election.
In the first of the six-phase local body elections, balloting will start at 8am and end at 4pm in 97 Upazilas. A Chairman, a Vice-Chairman and a female Vice-Chairman will be elected in each Upazila.
Wednesday has been declared a holiday in those 97 Upazilas.
Balloting at Rangpur’s Pirganj Upazila, however, will be held on Monday because of a by-poll there.
The Election Commission said all measures had been taken to facilitate smooth voting.
Campaign ended at midnight on Monday, 36 hours before the election begins, it said.
The army was deployed on Monday for five days to keep the law and order.
Along with them, an adequate number of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), police and Ansar personnel will also be on poll duty.
All forms of electoral campaign have been stopped and restrictions imposed on motorised vehicles from Monday midnight.
The EC does not foresee any violence in the Upazila elections, a marked departure from the troubled national poll.
All preparations have been made to hold the election in a festive and peaceful environment, says Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad.
“Adequate measures have been adopted to create a smooth environment for the voters, including those of the minority community (Hindus),” he said.
“Violation of any law will not be tolerated,” Ahmad warned.
All voting materials have been dispatched to the centres. Security persons are on duty there, said Ashfaqur Rahman, an Assistant Secretary at the EC Secretariat.
Political climate at non-political election
As per law, the Upazila election should not be laced with politics, but this is happening this time too as before.
Despite being aware of this, the EC appears helpless.
Awami League, BNP and other political parties are fielding Upazila candidates.
A few people have been expelled from the parties because they are contesting the polls as independent candidates after failing to get support from their parties.
BNP joins Upazila polls
The BNP is taking part in the Upazila election, though it is being held under a party-led government.
The party and its allies had unleashed violence in a bid to stall the national election, which it had boycotted saying that it would not be fair under a party-led government.
On Tuesday, the party filed a complaint with the Election Commission in writing.
BNP Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi said they have candidates almost in all Upazilas.
Specify allegation: EC
The Election Commission says it will look into allegations only if they are specific.
Election Commissioner Shah Nawaz said, “Political parties are supporting the election though it is a non-party one.”
If there is any allegation, the relevant returning officer has to be informed,” he said, adding, “The allegation should be specific, not general.”
First Phase Electoral Data
A total of 1,274 candidates are contesting this phase of election in 98 Upazilas. Of them, 432 candidates are for the chairman posts, 513 for Vice-Chairmen and 329 for Vice-Chairwoman.
Of them, the highest number of Chairman Candidates – 17 – is in Belabo Upazila in Narsinghdi.
Over 1,700 candidates had filed nomination papers in the first phase. Of them, 405 withdrew or were dropped after scrutiny.
No Chairman candidate has been elected uncontested, but a Vice-Chairman has been elected from Sirajganj’s Kazipur Upazila and a Vice-Chairwoman from Shariatpur and a Chairwoman from Bogra’s Dhupchanchia.
The 98 Upazilas account for 16.4 million voters. Of them, 8.1 million voters are men and 8.2 million are women.
The election will be held in 43,290 rooms of 6,995 voting centres.
A presiding officer will be on duty at each polling centre while an assistant presiding officer at each polling room.
A total of 86,580 polling officers will be on poll duty in this election.
The Election Commission had initially included 102 Upazilas in its first phase of election, but later four Upazilas were dropped from the election of the first phase due to delimitation problems.
The candidates must stop their campaigns 32 hours before the balloting in the local government elections.
EC Secretariat Assistant Secretary Ashfaqur Rahman said the restriction will be in effect 64 hours after the polls.
Anybody found to have violated the electoral law will be fined and jailed. The highest penalty is to repeal the candidacy.
Besides, a candidate can be fined up to Tk 100,000 and jailed for one year for violating the code of election conduct.
As a striking force, the army will be on duty in aid of the BGB, RAB Police and Ansar before, during and after the polls. One platoon army will be patrolling each Upazila.
Every Upazila will have two or three army vans. Along with them will be an army commanding officer and a magistrate.
In addition, an adequate number of RAB, BGB, Police and Ansar personnel will be on duty as a mobile force.
A total of 388 Executive Magistrates and 97 Judicial Magistrates have been deployed to maintain law and order on the polling day.
The Election Commission is taking special measures on the recommendation of an intelligence agency to prevent violence in religious minority-dominated areas.
The agency suggested secret watch in the areas for five days starting two days before the polls; arrest of those sued for previous attacks on minority people; operation of mobile courts during the elections; and the guarding of the areas before and after the polls.
An EC official said the agency had submitted a report that contained district and Upazila-wise names of minority-dominated areas, risky polling centres, reasons of potential violence, and the names of those who can unleash terror.
CEC Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad had already instructed all concerned to ensure the highest security in the minority areas.
The EC, however, does not fear any violence in view of the ‘necessary’ security measures adopted.
Election Commissioner Shah Nawaz said on Monday: “The reports we received from the intelligence agency and field-level officials do not smack of any act of possible violence.”
He said the law enforcers would remain alert in ‘very sensitive’ areas and swing into action immediately after any act of violence.
The central monitoring cell formed on Monday to deal with election-related irregularities has started functioning. The cell, comprising law enforcement agency and EC officials, will work until Thursday.
EC officials said journalists, local NGOs and foreign agencies had decided to observe the Upazila polls.
Among 71 foreign observers, two are from Asia Foundation, 54 from the US embassy, nine from Japan and six from the National Democratic Institute (NDI), they said.
A total of 6,589 people from 26 local NGOs would observe the polls, they added.
Actions against controversial officials
The Election Commission has asked all concerned to take actions against officials, who played ‘negative role’ during the previous elections, in consultation with district magistrates and superintendents of police.
The intelligence agency identified 590 such officials at 32 Upazilas in 10 districts who had acted as presiding officers previously.
An EC official said: “All concerned have been instructed to perform their duties neutrally for the election. The EC will take actions under Special Powers Act, 1991 against those not going by the instruction and showing partiality.”
The holding of the Upazila polls in six phases has increased the expenditure on law enforcement agencies and poll arrangements.
EC Deputy Secretary Shahjahan Khan said the total poll expenditure might be roughly Tk 2 billion.
“However, everything depends on the situation. The expenses have increased as several phases of polls are being held in a same district,” he said.
The Commission’s budget wing official Enamul Haque said Tk 640 million had already been released in two tranches.
According to the EC schedule, the second phase will see voting at 117 Upazila Parishad on Feb 27; at 83 on Mar 15; 92 on Mar 23 and at 77 on Mar 31.
Source: Bd news24