BNP leaders and activists have panicked before Tuesday’s Gazipur mayoral polls following intimidation by the law enforcement, alleged the opposition's mayoral candidate Hasan Uddin Sarker.
Scared of arrest and attack, about 250 possible polling agents of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in Kashimpur, Konabari, Bason and Joydevpur areas have allegedly expressed unwillingness to discharge duties on the voting day.
Around 11,000 members of police, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), Ansar and Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) have been deployed in the city corporation areas ahead of the election.
BNP mayoral candidate Hasan Uddin Sarker alleged that some people identifying them over phone as ruling Awami League (AL) leaders and members of the police are threatening the BNP men and asking them not to go to polling stations.
“Under the circumstances, I am afraid whether a fair election at all will be held. However, since this is my last election, I will not back out from the race,” said Sarker, also a former member of parliament.
In view of the situation, a key challenge for the BNP candidate is to make sure that his polling agents were present at the centres, said locals.
The BNP leaders and activists were also intimated ahead of the Khulna City Corporation (KCC) elections held on 15 May in which the AL's mayoral candidate Talukder Abdul Khalek eventually won. The law enforcement raided their houses, creating panic.
A Khulna-style election is being rehearsed in Gazipur, said local people adding that many BNP leaders assigned for election duties have gone into hiding to avoid arrest.
One of them is Hasan Uddin Sarker’s media cell chief coordinator Mazharul Alam who has not been seen publicly on Saturday.
The police conducted a raid on Friday night to detain him, BNP leaders alleged.
Meer Alimuzzaman, BNP candidate’s election conducting committee convener in Gazipur Sadar, said there is no enthusiasm about the polls.
“After the Eid-ul-Fitr, when the BNP’s position was seen better, raids were conducted at the houses of the BNP activists to detain them,” he alleged.
Since the beginning of electioneering, 73 leaders and activists of the BNP and its alliance partner Jamaat-e-Islami were arrested in the last one month.
After the visit of five election commissioners including the chief election commissioner to Gazipur on Wednesday, the police detained 16 BNP men who were assigned to discharge duties at polling stations.
On the other hand, ruling Awami League candidate Jahangir Alam was seen carrying out his electioneering riding in police car.
On Friday, the police arrested Gazipur Sadar thana BNP organising secretary Bashir Ahmed, and BNP leaders of ward no. 13, Korban Ali and Zahid.
However, the police denied such allegations. “It's our routine work to arrest any accused. But we are not arresting any person without genuine grounds or arrest warrants,” claimed Gazipur police super Harun-or-Rashid while talking to Prothom Alo.
BNP leaders pointed out that the Gazipur police have adopted a new strategy to arrest their leaders and activists. Although they are being arrested from city areas, the arrestees are being sent to nearby districts prove this otherwise, the BNP leaders alleged.
About the BNP’s allegations, returning officer Rakib Uddin Mandol said, “We’ve apprised the deputy commissioner and the police super of these complaints.”
They have responded to the allegations and they said they are not aware of this, said the returning officer.
When contacted, AL mayoral candidate Jahangir Alam insisted that the police must arrest those who are sued and arrest warrants are issued against them.
“They went into hiding after carrying out arson attacks and vandalism. Ahead of election, they’ve appeared, now the police are arresting them. We’ve made no interference in the process,” Alam told Prothom Alo.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.