At least five people were killed and more than 500 injured in the first phase of elections to union parishads (UPs) marked by widespread violence and irregularities yesterday.
Clashes between supporters of rival candidates, storming of polling stations and ballot box stuffing — mostly by those loyal to the ruling Awami League-backed candidates — were reported in many UPs.
Mathbaria upazila of Pirojpur saw the deadliest violence. At least three people were killed and several others injured after law enforcers opened fire on alleged AL supporters who purportedly confined polling officials inside a polling centre, police and locals said.
The death toll in this incident may rise, they added.
“Border Guard Bangladesh [BGB] personnel opened fire following the order of an executive magistrate … The people on whom the BGB opened fire were obstructing [polling officials] from carrying ballot boxes [to the returning officer’s office]. They also attacked the officials with sharp weapons,” said Walid Hossain, superintendent of Pirojpur district police.
“At least three people were killed and four-five people sent to Barisal [Sher-e-Bangla] Medical College Hospital in critical condition,” he told The Daily Star at 10:30pm yesterday.
While announcing the results around 8:00pm, the presiding officer of Safa Degree College centre declared void 800 ballots, all of which reportedly had stamps on the AL’s ‘boat’ symbol, locals said.
Hearing the news, around 4,000 AL activists armed with locally made weapons from the nearby areas besieged the centre and tried to snatch the ballot boxes from the polling officials who were on their way to office of the returning officer.
At one stage, the BGB opened fire, locals added.
In Netrakona, an AL activist was shot dead during a clash between the supporters of two chairman candidates during vote-counting at Adaura Government Primary School centre under Khaliajuri Sadar UP.
The deceased was identified as Golam Abu Kawser, brother of AL-backed chairman candidate Golam Abu Ishak, said Additional Superintendent Khan Mohammad Abu Naser of Netrakona police.
Kawser was killed in a clash with the supporters of his brother’s rival candidate Josef, the police official said, adding: “A tense situation is prevailing in the area.”
Ariful Islam Falak, another brother of the deceased, claimed Kawser was killed in police firing.
Yesterday, 717 UPs went to polls. Though the Election Commission (EC) initially had planned to conduct elections to 730 UPs yesterday, it had to postpone the polls in 13 places due to legal complications.
There had been concern of violence in the polls as deadly violence erupted in the run-up to the elections over the last several days. The BNP, Jatiya Party, Workers Party of Bangladesh and Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal had concerned over the elections’ being fair.
Despite fear of violence, a huge number of voters turned up at the polling stations, where no violence took place, to exercise their franchise through the polls, considered the most competitive of all elections. The turnout of women voters, in particular, was noteworthy.
The enthusiasm of voters created a festive mood in most of the election areas.
Despite the widespread violence, Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmed said the elections were held in a free, fair and peaceful manner except some “isolated incidents of irregularities”.
The AL spoke along the same line as the CEC but the BNP described the polls as “a farcical election under a partisan Election Commission”.
Elections to 643 UPs are due on March 31 in the second phase, 681 UPs on April 23 in the third phase while around 2,200 unions will go to polls in three more phases till June.
Chairman aspirants are contesting the elections with their party symbols, while member hopefuls are taking part in the polls without official endorsement from any party.
MORE VIOLENCE, ANOMALIES
A man was beaten to death and five others were injured during a clash between two member aspirants — Chunnu Shikdar and Sajib Hossain — at Kalianda Government Primary School centre in Nabagram UP of Jhalakathi Sadar upazila.
The deceased was identified as Abul Kashem Sikder, 55, brother of Chunnu.
The clash erupted around 3:00pm when Chunnu’s supporters obstructed Sajib’s men from capturing the polling centre. Kashem died on the spot, said police.
At Kaparkathi Government Primary School centre in the same union, a voter named Gouranga Byapari was shot after Ansar personnel on duty fired bullets to contain a clash between supporters of two chairman aspirants.
Incidents of violence were reported in almost half of the 279 voting centres under 31 UPs of the district. At least 35 people were injured in the incidents.
The BNP-endorsed chairman candidates in all the UPs of Jhalakathi except in one boycotted the polls, alleging vote rigging by the ruling party-men.
Our Jhalakathi correspondent visited 15 polling stations and found ruling party men had captured all of the centres. Incidents of clashes took place at all the 15 centres and police opened fire in most cases. Polling at eight centres was temporarily suspended following the incidents.
This correspondent came under attack by the supporters of AL candidate Awar Hossain Mujibor Mridha. They snatched his camera and broke it when he was taking photographs of AL men stuffing ballot boxes at Boro Kaibottokhali Government Primary School centre of Rajapur upazila.
In Noakhali, an assistant presiding officer and a polling officer were injured after supporters of two rival chairman candidates traded gunshots at a polling centre in Char King UP under Hatiya upazila over capturing the polling station around 9:00am.
They were rushed to the upazila health complex, said police.
Three BNP-endorsed chairman candidates boycotted the elections in the district.
In Bhola, at least 200 people, including police and women, were injured in clashes at different polling stations under seven upazilas, local sources said.
Nine candidates backed by the BNP and an AL rebel aspirant boycotted the elections there, alleging “massive” vote rigging and ballot-box stuffing.
Thirty-six UPs went to elections yesterday and polls to seven of them were suspended.
“Incidents of violence took place in 40 polling centres in the district,” said Moniruzzaman, superintended of Bhola police.
In Cox’s Bazar, at least 50 people were injured in tri-partite clash among the supporters of three chairman candidates at Uttar Dhurung UP in Kutubdia upazila over occupying polling centres, reports our district correspondent.
Thirty of the injured were admitted to the upazila health complex.