So ballot boxes are stuffed the night before polls?

Staff Correspondent . Dhaka | Update:

Chief election commissioner KM Nurul Huda. File photoChief election commissioner KM Nurul Huda said that there will be no chance of stuffing the ballot boxes the night before the election if Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) are used. His comment has sparked off fresh debate over the allegations of stuffing ballot boxes on the eve of the 11th parliamentary elections.

CEC Huda had made this comment while speaking at a training workshop of election officials at the Electoral Training Institute (ETI) in the city's Agargaon on Friday.

Earlier on Wednesday the election commissioner Shahadat Hossain Chowdhury said, "I want to announce clearly that no irregularities including stuffing ballot boxes on the preceding night of the polls or on the polling day or during vote counting would be tolerated." He was speaking as the chief guest at a special meeting arranged for holding the upazila parishad polls in Sunamganj.

Almost all the opposition parties including the BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party), Jatiya Oikya Front, the left democratic alliance and Islami Andolan Bangladesh raised allegations of stuffing ballot boxes the night before the 30 December elections.

Even JaSaD (Ambia), an ally of the ruling Awami League led 14-party alliance, raised such allegations saying a section of the administration resorted to many irregularities including ballot box stuffing the night before the polls. The anti-corruption watchdog TIB (Transparency International Bangladesh) too came up with such findings.

In this backdrop, the comments by the chief election commissioner and an election commissioner gave rise to fresh debate. The opposition parties and political analysts are saying the CEC, by his comment, has indeed admitted the fact that ballots were being stuffed the night before the elections.

The CEC, however, had claimed the elections were free, fair and impartial after the polls were completed. Speaking at a meeting about the the bi-polls of Dhaka North and South city corporations in January, he termed the 11th parliamentary elections as 'free and fair', worthy of setting up a new record.

“Ballot papers and boxes need to be sent to polling centers of different areas before the day of the polls. Because of the distance, at times we can’t send ballot boxes and papers to some polling centers at the morning of the Election Day. But if we introduce EVM at those centers, there would be no chance of ballot stuffing,” he said Friday.

The CEC also observed that the ambience of election is worsening. Asking the electoral officials not to show negligence in discharging their duties, he said, “Defeated candidates think the election is not acceptable while winners find it acceptable. But, you (electoral officials) must make sure that there is no negligence from your side.”

Though the BNP and Jatiya Oikya Front opposed the use of EVMs, they were used at six constituencies in 11th the parliamentary elections. Whereas the rate of casting votes was about 80 per cent across the country, it was 51 per cent at these six constituencies.

TIB, in its initial report of the study titled 'Review of Election Process of 11th National Election' published on 15 January, found evidence of vote rigging in 47 out of 50 constituencies and ballot boxes were stuffed in 33 constituencies in the previous night before the election.

TIB executive director Iftekharuzzaman told Prothom Alo that the CEC, in other words, has admitted the fact that ballot boxes were stuffed the night prior to the elections.

The Jatiya Oikya Front candidates filed 74 cases with the election tribunal of the High Court in February alleging vote rigging and calling for the polls being declared void. The Jatiya Oikya Front also held a public hearing over the 'irregularities' in the 11th parliamentary elections at the Supreme Court premises on 22 February. Almost all the aspirants at the tribunal who joined the polls with the sheaf of paddy symbol (BNP's electoral symbol) alleged that the ballot boxes were stuffed the night before the polls.

The CEC has admitted the vote rigging through his comment yesterday, but if the EVM is still used it will be used for rigging votes, BNP's standing committee member Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain said adding, these (EVMs) will be arranged in such a way that the votes will automatically be cast to boat (Awami League's electoral symbol).

Denying the interpretations of the CEC's comment AL joint general secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif said, the CEC might have referred to the allegations commonly raised by the oppositions following defeat in any elections.

The left democratic alliance formed with eight leftist parties held a public hearing too on 11 January. A number of 131 candidates came up with statement at the hearing alleging vote rigging, stuffing and over polling agents not being allowed to enter the polling centres.

If the CEC and an election commissioner talk in such a manner then it should be surmised that they confirmed that the ballot boxes were stuffed on the night prior to the polls, said former election commissioner Sakhawat Hossain. If that would not be the fact, why were such discussions coming to the fore now, he argued, saying the EC can now investigate in how many centres this occurred.

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