Voting to two Dhaka city corporations was held in a ‘controlled environment’ on Saturday, according to Prothom Alo investigations.
A total of 66 journalists and photographers of Prothom Alo visited 427 vote centres to file this report.
Voters at different polling stations alleged they could cast their votes.
After the fingerprint was placed on the electronic machine, the ballot paper appeared. The voter then entered the booth enclosed by a cloth to cast his vote. Yet outsiders were peeping inside the booth to see for which symbol the vote was being cast.
Entering the booth, a voter found his vote was being cast by outsiders.
When a voter entered the booth, the outsiders instructed him to cast his vote according to their choice.
Such was the scenario at most of the polling stations.
Persons wearing Awami League’s election symbol ‘Boat’ badge completely controlled the voting booths, centres and the surrounding premises.
As a result, secret votes no longer remained secret.
The agents of the councilor and mayor candidates of other parties including BNP were not found in most of the centres.
Presiding officers said agents of BNP mayor and councilors did not come. There were allegations that agents were driven out from some polling stations.
However, no major clashes took place, only sporadic incidents. There were 2,468 voting centres. Voting was not suspended in any of these centres.
The law enforcing agencies were not seen in any attacking role.
There were allegations that voters and journalists faced obstacles.
Voting was held in the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) system in all voting centres of the two city corporations. The voting continued from 8am to 4pm without any break.
Voting officials and agents were instructing the voters on how to to cast their votes as they were not accustomed to EVM.
In some cases, voters had to try several times to adjust their fingerprints.
Long queues were not seen anywhere as the turnout of voters was very thin.
In some voting centres, BNP agents were seen in the morning, but they were not found after 1pm.
After the completion of the voting, Awami League joint general secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif at a press conference on Saturday gave reactions of his party.
He said, “My journalist friends can say better whether such a free, fair and peaceful election was ever held in such a festive environment in the last 100 years in Bangladesh.”
He also said there no BNP agents were beatn or driven out of the centres. BNP agents did not come to some centres due to their party’s organisational weakness, Hanif added.
While speaking to journalists at BNP’s Naya Paltan central office on Saturday afternoon, BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir alleged outsiders wearing badges of AL election symbol ‘Boat’ were at the polling stations.
The law enforcers, election commission and returning officers did not take any steps to prevent them.
He also alleged BNP agents were not allowed to enter polling stations and they were beaten up and driven out.
Although presiding officers were allowed to cast one per cent of the votes to help the voters, they exceeded the ceiling.
How voting stations were controlled:
While visiting different spots, it was found that Awami League put up three tiers of monitoring mechanism to control the polling stations.
First, followers of Awami League-backed councilor candidates set up tables and supply voter slips.
Leaders and activists of Awami League and its associate bodies crowded around these tables and up to the entrance of the polling stations.
Activists of ruling Awami League stayed inside some polling stations, chatting with the police. Some of them took the voters to the booths.
The scenario in the voting booths was worse. Polling agents of Awami League-backed mayor and councilor candidates were seen in all polling stations. More three to four people wearing badges of Boat were also seen.
One or two of them was active near the cloth-enclosed booths.
Alongside the police, members of Ansar were also deployed. Of them, some were permanent members and some were recruited on temporary basis.
Speaking to Ansar members, it was learnt that about all of temporary Ansar members were recruited following the recommendations of Awami League and its associate bodies. Most of them are the activists and leaders of Chhatra League.
Experience of voters
A voter entered Motijheel Ideal School and College at around 1pm to cast his vote.
After sometime the voter came out of the booth and started shouting as the voter could not his cast vote after giving his fingerprint and showing his national identity card.
A person in the booth had pressed the button and cast the vote before the genuine voter entered.
At the Rajdhani High School voting centre opposite the parliament building, two voters alleged they were forced to vote openly.
They said an outsider put pressure on them to vote in favour of Boat when they were about to the press button after completing necessary process. They came out angrily as they could not cast votes of their choice.
In similar incident, a voter was assaulted at Tejgaon Polytechnic Institute centre.
He said, “I attended rallies organised by Awami League mayor and councilor candidates. But I could not vote in their favour. A youth cast my vote. As I protested, I was forcefully driven out of the centre.”
A person cast his vote at Curzon Hall centre at 10am. When the voter came out of the centre, the leaders and activists of Chhatra League wanted to know for which symbol he cast his vote. As he said the vote was cast in favour of BNP election symbol paddy sheaf, he was beaten up.
Voting was controlled earlier too
Awami League leaders and activists controlled polling stations in by-election of Chattogram-8 constituency. The turnout of voters was thin in that election of EVM system.
In the national election of 30 December 2018, AL leaders and activists did not give any space to BNP leaders and activists.
BNP was in trouble as a huge number of leaders and activists were arrested ahead of the election.
Earlier, BNP could not put forward polling agents in the city corporation elections in Gazipur, Khulna, Barishal and Rajshahi.
BNP alleged that they could not give agents due to cases, attacks and intimidation.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.