Ballots in police custody as chaos breaks out, vote count pending

Vote counting of the election to the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) remained pending until Friday evening following ballot casting for two days as police took custody of the sealed ballot boxes after chaos broke out over the counting.

Voting for the election to SCBA, the association of lawyers at the top court, was held on 6-7 March to elect the new executive committee for the 2024-25 period. A total of 5,319 out of 7,883 voters cast ballots, and this year, 33 candidates contest the polls on 14 posts including president, two vice presidents, secretary and treasurer.

However, scuffles and brawls broke out at the SCBA auditorium over whether the vote counting should be held at night following the disagreements among several candidates, leaving several lawyers injured.

A video of the election conducting sub-committee convenor Abul Khayer is making the round on the internet. In the video, the senior lawyer was heard saying,” Only Nahid Sultana Juthi, the secretary candidate, was present. So, she was declared elected as secretary.”

Abul Khayer, however, told Prothom Alo on Friday, “Vote counting did not take place. Ballot boxes are sealed and under the custody of police. However, media will be briefed on the next course of action later.”

Meanwhile, Nahid Sultana told Prothom Alo in a WhatsApp message, “Sub-committee convenor Abul Khayer declared me elected as secretary on Friday morning, and I thank everyone involved in it.”

However, the secretary candidate from the White Panel, Shah Manzurul Haque told Prothom Alo over the mobile phone, “The election conducting sub-committee could not count the ballots in this context and counting may take place on Saturday.”

Senior lawyer Md Ruhul Kuddus, who is the secretary candidate from Blue Panel, called all these situations “a continuation of drama” of the past two years. He told Prothom Alo in a WhatsApp message on Friday evening that the election conducting sub-committee had already announced the results of the secretary post while outsiders took the ballot box. The name might be announced again, but this is just a drama to announce the results as per their wish.

Outsiders, scuffles and brawls

Witnesses said outsiders were seen gathering at the different places of the association building since Thursday evening. Several candidates also raised objections on inconsistency in balloting, however, ballot sorting ended after 2:00am on Friday, but several candidates disagreed over starting the voting counting. Secretary candidates Nahid Sultana and Blue Panel’s Ruhul Kuddus agreed to count ballots at night while White Panel’s Shah Manzurul Haque and several other candidates said counting should take place during the day. Eventually, their disagreements led to scuffles and brawls.

At one stage, the election conducting sub-committee announced ballots had been sealed and counting would take place on Friday afternoon, which several candidates opposed. Early on Friday, a lawyer tried to open the auditorium door a sub-committee member objected, and they exchanged heated arguments. At one stage, several people from outside entered the auditorium and attacked the sub-committee member and assistant attorney general SR Siddique. They also beat several other lawyers, leaving them injured. Police, however, rushed to the spot and brought the situation under control. Prothom Alo also obtained a video of the assaulting the lawyers.

SR Siddique said he was assaulted and blamed the supporter of a certain candidate.

Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Democratic Lawyers’ Association condemned the attack during the SCBA election and demanded a judicial probe into the incident.