Independent, small party candidates worry about campaign, access to centres

A man casts vote in a transparent ballot box
File photo

Some candidates running for the parliamentary seat in Dhaka are expressing concern about election campaigning and attending polling stations.

On Thursday afternoon, candidates from independent and small parties voiced these fears during a discussion with the Election Commission (EC). During this interaction, the EC reassured them of ensuring equal opportunities for all. 

Earlier in the morning, the EC conducted another meeting with police officers and field administration in Dhaka and the surrounding districts. Officers-in-charge (OC) of multiple police stations alleged that Awami League candidates were exerting pressure on the police to work in their favour. 

The office of the Dhaka Divisional Commissioner organised both exchange meetings, which took place at the auditorium of the election building in Agargaon, Dhaka.

The meeting was attended by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Kazi Habibul Awal, Election Commissioner Md Alamgir, and EC Secretary Jahangir Alam. The meeting was presided over by Dhaka Divisional Commissioner and Returning Officer Sabirul Islam. 

Conversation with candidates  

The exchange meeting was conducted with the candidates of 20 parliamentary seats in Dhaka city and districts, totaling 156 contenders. However, not all of them were present; some sent representatives. 

Sources indicate that Salma Islam, the Jatiya Party candidate for Dhaka-5 constituency, was the first among the candidates to address the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC). She expressed her desire for neutral elections, emphasising the need to prevent irregularities and corruption. Abdul Hakim, the NPP candidate, mentioned that two candidates (including one reserved seat) in his constituency are incumbent MPs, and there are concerns about potential abuse of power. In response, the EC assured all candidates of equal treatment, emphasising that everyone will have an equal opportunity in the election field. 

Sources from the meeting revealed that a candidate proposed the elimination of polling agents during elections. The candidate's argument was that polling agents, particularly those affiliated with the ruling party, exert undue influence on polling stations. In response, the Election Commission (EC) advised candidates to appoint assertive and vigilant polling agents to ensure fair proceedings. 

During the meeting, some candidates raised concerns about miscreants tearing down their campaign posters. Complaints were voiced that Awami League candidates were saturating key locations with so many posters that candidates from other parties were being denied the opportunity to display their campaign materials prominently. 

There were also reports of an alleged incident where an Awami League candidate was accused of tearing down posters belonging to candidates from other parties in a seat in the Mirpur area. 

The candidate accused of the alleged incident claimed that the accusation is baseless. The ruling party candidate asserted earlier that candidates from parties other than the Awami League lack the authority to appoint polling agents. This statement provoked anger among other candidates present at the meeting, leading to heated arguments. 

Furthermore, some candidates demanded the installation of CCTV cameras in polling stations for enhanced security. However, the Election Commission (EC) conveyed that this would not be feasible. 

At the conclusion of the meeting, Election Commissioner Md Alamgir informed reporters that independent and small-party candidates have expressed concerns about their ability to campaign effectively. They are uncertain about whether they can go to polling stations and whether their agents can remain there. Questions have arisen regarding these issues. 

Md. Alamgir stated that both the administration and the EC have assured candidates of all necessary assistance. Candidates have been informed that they are allowed to stay at the polling stations. If their agents encounter any issues, they are advised to inform the presiding officers. In cases where the presiding officers cannot resolve the problems, they are instructed to inform law enforcement for further assistance. 

Pressure on OCs to side with candidates  

Earlier in the morning, during a law and order-related discussion meeting, multiple sources reported that an Officer-in-Charge (OC) from Manikganj district stated that the ruling Awami League candidate in his area was exerting pressure on the police to favour him in the polls. 

In response, the CEC asserted that the police cannot operate in favour of any individual. The CEC emphasised that it is not relevant to identify someone's party affiliation; all candidates are treated equally. The CEC directed the OC to carry out his duties fearlessly. 

Another OC from Narsingdi shared that an Awami League candidate had been pressuring him to align with him and work on his behalf during the election. In response, the CEC stated that no instructions from that candidate should be considered. If the candidate is not given any attention, he will naturally become silent, and there is no reason to fear him. 

Several OCs from Munshiganj and Manikganj have requested to send ballot boxes to centres in remote areas the night before polling. Their concern is related to the possibility of thick fog in the morning on polling day, making the transportation of ballot boxes risky. In these areas, transportation is often done by river using engine-driven boats. The proposal suggests placing the ballot boxes under police security the previous night at sub-centers near such locations. 

However, the Election Commission (EC) stated that the ballot papers will be transported to the centres on the morning of the polling day. If an area is deemed inaccessible, the Returning Officer must submit an application to the Election Commission with arguments to transport the ballots earlier. 

Additionally, some police officials expressed concern, highlighting the incident of setting fire to a train, suggesting that there may be an increased risk of vandalism during the election. 

The meeting concluded around noon. Subsequently, Election Commissioner Md Alamgir informed reporters that the challenges of the election were thoroughly discussed. Law enforcement agencies have provided the EC with plans to address these challenges.  

The EC has put forth some suggestions. Strategies such as enhancing intelligence surveillance to prevent destructive incidents and taking preemptive action were discussed. Additionally, all involved parties were urged to carry out their responsibilities with honesty and impartiality.