The nature of army deployment in the upcoming city corporation polls will be completely different from those in any previous election in the country.
In the past, army personnel patrolled the roads to maintain law and order during polls time. Their presence alongside regular law enforcers gave voters a strong sense of security. Besides, troublemakers dared not create any chaos in the polling centres — be it capturing centres or stuffing ballot boxes.
But things will be poles apart this time.
For the April 28 city polls, army members will not be seen patrolling the streets, as the Election Commission does not want them to. The EC rather wants them to remain inside the cantonments as a “reserve force” for four days since April 26.
In a letter to the Armed Forces Division, the commission sought one battalion (over 700 members) of army for each of the three city corporations — two in Dhaka and one in Chittagong — that go to polls on Tuesday.
The troops will move out as striking force only if the returning officers call them, the EC said.
A number of mayor aspirants in Dhaka and Chittagong have been demanding army deployment for a free and fair election.
In response, the EC on April 21 asked the government to deploy army for four days alongside the regular law enforcement agencies.
Explaining the commission’s decision, Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad told reporters yesterday that since the cantonments were located at the hearts of the cities, troops would be able to move easily to the trouble spots.
He did not take any question from journalists.
Earlier in the day, Election Commissioner Shah Nawaz told newsmen that there was no need for the army to patrol the streets as there would be adequate law enforcers on duty.
“Police, Rab and members of other law enforcement agencies will be deployed at different places. We have kept army as a reserve force,” he said.
“Since the cantonments are adjacent to the city corporation areas, we asked them [the army] to be there and remain prepared. Our magistrates will also be with them. Whenever the returning officers will feel their need, they will carry out their duties as a striking force,” he added.
The nature of such “army deployment” has drawn huge criticisms.
Former election commissioner Brig Gen (retd) Shakhawat Hossain said this could not be termed as deployment.
“Either you deploy army properly or you don’t,” he told this correspondent.
M Hafizuddin Khan, ex-adviser to a caretaker government, said, “The Election Commission has deceived us all.”
The main objective of army deployment is to bring a sense of relief and security among voters, but the EC’s decision would not benefit voters, he added.
When his attention was drawn to voters’ insecurity, Shah Nawaz said people would feel relieved when they would see law enforcers on the streets in large numbers.
Asked if the EC backed away from its previous decision over army deployment, he answered in the negative. “We’ve just explained where and how the troops will be.”
The BNP and Adarsha Dhaka Andolan, a pro-BNP professionals’ platform campaigning for candidates backed by the party, also criticised the EC for the decision.
In a statement, platform convener Prof Emajuddin Ahmad and member secretary Shawkat Mahmud described the move as an “unprecedented drama and mockery.”
“The decision of the Election Commission is questionable and conspiratorial,” the statement said.
BNP Standing Committee Member Hannan Shah said the commission’s decision over army deployment was nothing but a “jugglery”.
If any untoward incident happens in Kamrangirchar or Dholaikhal, it would take the troops an hour to reach the spot, and by that time the troublemakers will flee the scene, he said.
At a press conference at the residence of BNP-blessed mayor candidate Mirza Abbas, he said, “There will be a battle of ballot in Dhaka city. So it is not possible to hold free and fair polls by keeping the army inside the cantonment.”
He claimed the government came to know through intelligence that the ruling party-backed candidates would suffer heavy defeats, and that’s why it was conspiring to keep the BNP from the election.