12th parliament election gripped with suspicion, questions over voter turnout

12th parliamentary electionRepresentational image

The rate of turnout in the 12th parliamentary election has raised many suspicions. Some termed the turnout figure presented by the Election Commission (EC) as surprising.

The Election Commission (EC) on Monday finally announced the turnout to be 41.8 per cent. Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Kazi Habibul Awal told journalists at that time that anyone could challenge the figure if they had any doubt.

The EC announced the estimated turnout thrice on the voting day. As per the EC, turnout was 18.5 per cent till 12:20 (voting started at 8:00am) and 26.37 per cent at 3:00pm.

The EC said the figures are rough as turnout of all areas were not available by then.

Around one and half hours after the voting ended, the CEC initially said the turnout was 28 per cent. But another person beside the CEC corrected him that the turnout is actually 40 per cent. The CEC then told journalists that the figure might be around 40 per cent. He said it is a rough estimation and can either be increased or decreased. As per that estimation, more than 13 per cent vote was cast in the last one hour alone. The EC yesterday said the actual turnout is 42 per cent. That means, over 14 per cent vote was cast in the last hour alone.

Such a big jump in turnout in the last hour has surprised even many candidates. Many experts said, in many cases the constituencies where there was less competition against Awami League candidates had no polling agents of other candidates. In such constituencies, ballots were stuffed in favor of the winning candidates due to absence of agents of other candidates. Around 80 to 100 seats saw better competition due to the presence of independent candidates.

Polling agents usually work in preventing fake voting and ballot stuffing, and other electoral irregularities. Even the CEC himself did not find any agents other than the ruling party candidate when he cast his own vote. Allegations of bribing polling agents of competitor candidates inside the polling stations to neutralize them have also appeared. In many constituencies, use of money and role of administration, police and other stakeholders have also raised eyebrows.

Suspicion of the candidates

Local Awami League leader Firozur Rahman contested in Brahmanbaria-2 as an independent. He was defeated by the ruling party candidate. Firozor expressed his astonishment over the turnout figure given by the EC. He told Prothom Alo yesterday that he had learnt that turnout was 15 per cent in his constituency till 3:00pm. As the voting had ended at 4:00pm, he learnt that the turnout is 35 per cent. Firozur said he doubts the turnout.

Fakhrul Imam was Jatiya Party candidate in Mymensingh-2 seat. This constituency was one of the 26 seats where Awami League withdrew its own candidates as per its understanding with Jatiya Party. Independent candidate from Awami League defeated Fakhrul Imam. He told Prothom Alo yesterday that the turnout has been shown as 27 per cent in his constituency.

The polling centers were deserted for the whole day, but the turnout has seen a big leap in the last one hour, he alleged.

The Jatiya Party leader said he cannot match the turnout with the actual presence of voters.

A three-time lawmaker contested the 7 January election independently, but he lost to the candidate of Awami League. Sharing the voting day experiences, the former lawmaker said people of the winning candidate bought off his polling agents with more money at the polling centres. As a result his agents stopped communicating with him.

Buying off the agents at the polling centres seemed something new to him, he said adding, agents of the winning candidates can carry out many irregularities including ballot stuffing since the agents of the opponents remain absent. He assumed such things happened at many places of his constituencies.

Voter turnout 50pc or more

Eighty constituencies saw a voter turnout of 50 per cent or more, and boat candidates won in 69 of those seats, independent candidates in 10 seats and Jatiya Party bagged a seat.

The wining candidates defeated their nearest opponents by a huge margin at 46 constituencies with a voter turnout of 50 per cent or more. Apparently there was no contest in those constituencies as boat candidates won them all.

Voter turnout was over 72 per cent in Sirajganj-1 constituency. Awami League-nominated candidate Tanvir Shakil secured 278,971 votes while his nearest opponent Md Zahirul Islam of Jatiya Party bagged 3,139 votes.

Tanvir Shakil told Prothom Alo he expected more voter turnout because each election sees more than 80 per cent turnout. Voter turnout is low this time as garment workers could not come home and some people relocated to other places due to river erosion.

People familiar with the politics in Sirajganj-1 said the family of former health minister Mohammad Hashim is hugely popular at this seat, and Tanvir Shakil is his son. However, the presence of voters was not that noticeable at the polling stations on the voting day.

Jatiya Party Zahirul Islam said he saw presence of more voters at some polling centers, as well as presence of fewer voters as some polling stations, but, to him, a turnout of 72 per cent seemed higher.

JSD candidate and freedom fighter Saiful Islam told Prothom Alo there were complications in the polling, and ballot were cast randomly after 12:00pm.

Voter turnout was about 62 per cent in Mymensigh-10 constituency despite the presence of no major opponents as Awami League candidate Fahmi Gulandaz bagged 216,893 votes and his nearest opponent Nazmul Haque of Jatiya Party got 8,276 votes.

Voter turnout was about 65 per cent in Rangamati. Bir Bahadur Ushwe Sing secured 172,671 votes and his nearest rival ATM Shahidul Islam of Jatiya Party got 10,361 votes. Voter turnout was 46 per cent in the 2014 election that the BNP not joined.

No constituency in Dhaka saw a voter turnout of 50 per cent or above. Voter turnout was 25 per cent or less in 14 out 20 seats in Dhaka, with Dhaka-20 seeing the highest 46 per cent turnout and Dhaka-15 seeing the lowest 13 per cent turnout.

In Dhaka-15 seats, state minister for industries Kamal Ahmed Mazumder bagged 39,632 votes and his nearest opponent Md Shamsul Haque of Jatiya Party got 2,444 votes.

With a turnout of less than 24 per cent, there was a ferocious contest in the Dhaka-5 constituency where independent candidate Moshiur Rhaman Molla defeated Harunr Rashid Molla of Awami League by 297 voters.

Turnout varies in Chattogram

There are 16 constituencies in Chattogram. Voter turnout was over 50 per cent or more in four seats including three seats that saw no noticeable contest. Voter turnout was less than 40 per cent in 11 constituencies. Vote scenario also varied a lot.

Voter turnout was over 73 per cent in Chattogram-6 seats where ABM Fazle Karim Chowdhury bagged 221,572 ballots and his nearest opponent independent candidate Shafiul Azam secured 3,159 votes.

In Chatogram-5 constituencies, there was competition, and voter turnout was less than 21 per cent. Anisul Islam Mahmud of Jatiya Party secured 50,977 votes while independent candidate and Awami League leader Muhammad Shajahan reeived 36,251.

Use of money

The wining candidates spent huge amount of money. Various parties involved with the elections were allegedly offered money. Many candidates also distributed money through their activist to increase vote bank. Many defeated candidates raised such allegations. The Election Commission set the poll spending at Tk 10 per voters, but this was not followed during the elections.

Regarding the overall situation, former election commissioner M Sakhawat Hossain told Prothom Alo on Monday voter turnout did not tally with the vote scenarios throughout the day, and that raised doubts.