Voters keep off; Low turnout, show of strength by AL men, poor presence of BNP polling agents mark Dhaka city polls; BNP calls hartal for today

The Daily Star  February 02, 2020

Voters keep off

Low turnout, show of strength by AL men, poor presence of BNP polling agents mark Dhaka city polls; BNP calls hartal for today

Star Report

The polling atmosphere was eerily festive. Almost too peaceful to be real.

Posters of the candidates flooded every nook and cranny of the capital. The candidates’ supporters with identity cards dangling from their necks were outside the polling centres. Security forces patrolled the streets though peace prevailed.

Yet, an astonishingly poor number of voters turned up at the polling stations in the high-voltage Dhaka city polls, dampening the spirit that is common in an election in the country.

Besides, polling agents and supporters who thronged the voting centres all belonged to the candidates nominated by the Awami League.

The Daily Star correspondents could hardly spot polling agents or supporters of the BNP candidates at the polling centres. It was as if an invisible force made them disappear on the election day.

AL candidate for the DSCC Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh bagged 399,695 votes trailed by BNP’s Ishraque Hossain with 219,027 votes, show unofficial results from 1,075 of the 1,150 polling stations in Dhaka south.

In the DNCC, AL candidate Atiqul Islam secured 235,354 votes while BNP’s Tabith Awal got 146,355, according to unofficial results from 739 out of the 1,318 centres in Dhaka north.

Meanwhile, the BNP rejected the results and called a daylong hartal today in the capital.

“We are totally rejecting the city elections. A dawn-to-dusk hartal will be observed in the city on Sunday,” BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said at a press conference at the party’s Nayapaltan central office last night.

Earlier, the party submitted a written complaint to the Election Commission over “irregularities” centring the city elections.

The poor turnout in Dhaka North and South city corporations polls speaks volumes of apathy that has developed among voters regarding the electoral process.

Reports from our correspondents indicate that voters’ presence was thin at most of the polling centres where over 54 lakh voters were supposed to elect the city’s custodians.

And this, according to experts, indicated people’s diminishing confidence in the country’s electoral system.

Many people were deprived of their voting rights in some of the previous elections, they said. Also, the Election Commission failed to create enthusiasm among the voters to go to polling centres.

“It is probably the outcome of the previous elections. Voters did not have confidence that they would be able to cast their votes without any fear, and their vote will make a difference,” Prof Nizamuddin Ahmed, an expert on local governance system, told The Daily Star.

Given the intensity of the candidates’ campaigns, the voter turnout should have been higher, he said. “But the poor presence of voters indicates that the Election Commission could not earn trust of the voters.”

Echoing this view, Brig Gen (retd) Shakhawat Hossain, a former election commissioner, said people are losing trust in the electoral system because of the EC’s poor management.

“The election was apparently peaceful with an abnormal voter turnout,” he told this newspaper.

Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda predicted that the turnout would be less than 30 percent.

“It was a good election,” he told the reporters last night.

In the previous 2015 elections, the average voter turnout in the two city corporations was 43.92 percent — 37.29 percent in north and 48.4 percent in south.

Yesterday’s polling was quite peaceful. But the city residents found some uncanny resemblance between this election and the 11th parliamentary polls. As in the December 30 national polls, there was a one-sided overwhelming show of strength this time too.

Both the BNP mayor aspirants as well as some BNP-backed councillor candidates alleged that the ruling party men drove out their polling agents from the polling centres. In an election, polling agents play a vital role in checking fake voting.

About the allegation, the CEC said, “The [polling] agents must have the strength to stay put… They shouldn’t leave [the centres] if anyone asks them to do so.”

There was a lot of speculations centring yesterday’s election as it was the first EVM-only polls.

The EC used the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) at all 2,468 polling stations despite reservations from opposition political parties and concern among many voters about how to use the machines.

Many voters complained that they were unable to cast their ballots due to mismatch of fingerprints. But what made them uncomfortable was that the privacy of many voters was compromised during the casting of votes.

Besides, they alleged that inside the polling booths there were many “helping hands” who cast votes through EVMs on their behalf.

On the issue, Shakhawat said he heard that there were cases where voting through EVMs was manipulated by the people behind the machines.

“Even EVMs could not stop vote manipulation,” he said.

The first election to the undivided Dhaka City Corporation was held in 1994 and the second one in 2002. The government in 2011 split the DCC into two but there was no election.

The two city corporations went to polls in 2015. The AL-backed candidates won the mayoral posts with the BNP-backed candidates boycotting the election halfway over allegations of vote rigging.

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