Third phase too sees low turnout, anomalies

Star Report

Sporadic violence and irregularities at a number of voting centres marked the third phase of upazila parishad elections yesterday amid a low voter turnout.

Of the 117 upazilas that went to polls, Katiadi upazila in Kishoreganj saw voting suspended in all its 89 centres following allegations of ballot stuffing and vote rigging.

Besides, polling at 14 centres in seven upazilas of five districts were suspended over the same allegations.

According to results provided by the returning officers at 12:15am today, Awami League-nominated chairman candidates emerged victorious in 40 upazilas. The party’s rebel contenders won in 24 upazilas and a Jatiya Party contestant in one upazila.

At a post-polls briefing, Election Commission Secretary Helal Uddin Ahmed said the elections, by and large, were peaceful.

“We have withheld the polls in Katiadi upazila over irregularities. But the elections in other 116 upazilas were peaceful.”

He further said Kishoreganj Additional Superintendent of Police Shafiqul Islam and Officer-in-Charge of Katiadi Police Station Shamsuddin were withdrawn over allegations of their involvement in the irregularities.

“We will investigate the matter and take actions against whoever is found involved in the irregularities.”

On low voter turnout, Helal said, “The commission does not bother about voter turnout in the elections.”

It is not a matter of concern for the EC how many voters cast ballots in the polls. The commission rather cares whether the voting was peaceful or not.

“A quarter, which is not participating in the election, is running campaigns, asking voters not to go to the polling stations,” he alleged.

Of the 492 upazilas, 480 are scheduled to go to election in five phases this year. Polls were held in 78 upazilas in the first phase on March 10 and in 116 upazilas in the second phase on  March 18.

Election to 122 upazilas will be held on March 31 in the fourth phase. The EC is yet to announce the schedule for the fifth-phase polls.

Yesterday, The Daily Star correspondents visited around 60 polling stations in 14 upazilas.

In Kishoreganj, the authorities found proof of ballot-box stuffing at five polling stations the night before the election day, said Mohammad Tajul Islam, election officer in the district.

Yesterday, voting at the remaining 84 stations was suspended over the allegations of ballot stuffing and vote rigging, said Tajul Islam, retuning officer of Kishoreganj.

ASP Shafiqul and OC of Katiadi Police Station Shamsuddin were withdrawn over the allegations of their involvement in vote rigging and ballot stuffing, said the RO.

In Chattogram, a police constable was critically injured in a clash between supporters of the AL chairman candidate in Chandanaish upazila and law enforcers at Purbo Chandanaish Primary School polling centre.

The constable, Farhad, was hit by bullets in lower abdomen. He was airlifted to the National Institute of Diseases of the Chest and Hospital in the capital from Chattogram Medical College Hospital (CMCH) for better treatment, said Inspector Jahirul Islam at the CMCH Police Outpost.

Around 9:00am, supporters of the AL candidate entered the polling centre and tried to occupy it. Law enforcers resisted them, said Afruzul Haque Tutul, the ASP in the district.

The attackers then opened fire on police, leaving Farhad wounded, said Tutul.

Voting at the centre was suspended following the incident.

At another polling centre in Banshkhali upazila, police detained a youth with a knife.

In Manikganj, a presiding officer was detained at a polling centre in Daulatpur upazila for his alleged involvement in ballot stuffing.

Law enforcers detained the presiding officer, Ruhul Amin, at Jionpur Khapara Government Primary School centre around 9:30am, said Assistant Returning Officer Abdul Momin.

Voting was suspended at the centre, he added.

Later, two AL rebel chairman candidates — Abdul Kader, former chairman of the upazila, and Aminur Rahman, former general secretary of the upazila unit AL — boycotted the polls over the allegations of vote rigging.

The authorities could not start voting on time at Motto Government Primary School centre in Sadar upazila due to technical problems in electronic voting machines.

Polling began around 10:20am, said Presiding Officer Abu Bakar Siddique.

Visiting different polling stations in Manikganj Sadar upazila, The Daily Star correspondent found low turnout of voters. There was hardly any voter at Porra Government Model Primary School centre around 12:20pm.

In Cox’s Bazar, supporters of two candidates traded gunfire near Noknama Government Primary School centre in Pekua upazila around 9:30am, said Mohammad Jakir Hossain Bhuiyan, OC of Pekua Police Station.

There was no report of any casualty, he added.

Three vice-chairman candidates for Ukhiya upazila parishad boycotted  the election over allegations of irregularities.

Meanwhile, at least 10 people were injured in an AL factional clash at Mirzapur Government Primary School centre in Shailakupa upazila in Jhenaidah.

Locals and police said the clash broke out as supporters of AL chairman candidate Nayeb Ali Joardar ousted the polling agents of AL rebel candidate Shikdar Mosharraf Hossain Sona from the polling station.

In Jhalakathi, three persons were injured as followers of the AL chairman candidate and the AL rebel candidate clashed at Hailakathi School centre in Rajapur upazila.

Besides, scuffle and chase and counter-chase took place between supports of the AL chairman candidate and an independent candidate at Purbo Indrapasha Primary School and Nijamia School centres in the same upazila.

Former chairman of Baraia Union Zahid Hossain was detained with two licensed firearms and 22 bullets near his house.

Jahid, supporter of an independent upazila chairman candidate, fired five shots in the air to scare away a group of men who attacked him in Nijamia area in the afternoon. Later a vigilance team, comprising a magistrate, arrested him.

Elections were held almost peacefully in Chapainawabganj, Satkhira and Barishal, which saw a low voter turnout.

In Pirojpur, supporters of an AL rebel chairman candidate in Mathbaria upazila allegedly attacked the AL candidate and his followers at Gulishakhali Bazar in the upazila around 10:00pm on Saturday, leaving at least 10 people injured.

Election in the upazila will be held on March 31.

Source: The Daily Star.

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