Conflict, violation of code of conduct continue

Supporters of 'boat' candidate of Cumilla-1 constituency Abdus Sabur bring out a procession that created a huge traffic jam on Dhaka-Chattogram highway, known as lifeline of Bangladesh's economy, on 27 December in 2023Prothom Alo file photo

Awami League candidate Shajahan Khan and his brother, Sadar upazila parishad chairman Obaidur Rahman Khan, held a meeting at their residence with 37 teachers assigned electoral responsibilities in the Madaripur-3 constituency.

Abdus Sobhan Golap, the central publicity and publication secretary of Awami League, is the candidate for that seat. Tahmina Begum, a member of parliament for the reserved women's seat and an independent candidate, poses a tough competition. 

Shajahan Khan and his brother are actively working to ensure Abdus Sobhan's victory in the neighbouring constituency. During the meeting with the teachers, they urged them to work in favour of Abdus Sobhan.

This meeting, held on Monday morning, is one of various incidents indicating the exertion of influence in the 12th national parliament election. Instances include conflicts, violence, threats, government employees campaigning for candidates, obstruction, attacks, and incidents of arson against opponents.

The Election Commission (EC) and returning officers continue to issue show-cause notices and fines to candidates for reported incidents. Despite warnings to the government party to avoid involvement in conflicts, instances of conflict, violence, and violations of the code of conduct persist. 

In the past week, arson and attacks on three candidates' election camps occurred at five locations. In the 10 days since the campaign began on 18 December, there have been 83 incidents of conflict and violence.  

Moreover, from the announcement of the schedule until last Tuesday, the search committees issued show-cause notices to candidates, considering a total of 256 complaints of code of conduct violations. 

However, some candidates express dissatisfaction with the perceived lack of strong action by the Election Commission, administration, and police against powerful individuals.

Independent candidate Tahmina Begum from Madaripur-3 constituency stated that threats, attacks, and campaign obstructions are occurring regularly in her area. Although written complaints with evidence have been submitted for each issue, no punitive action has been taken. 

The 12th National Assembly elections are scheduled for 7 January, with notable absences including BNP and parties aligned with them, along with the boycott by Islamic Andolan Bangladesh. Awami League has left 26 seats for Jatiya Party, while over a hundred seats see independent candidates, many of whom are associated with Awami League, participating. 

Political analysts argue that the EC is not even facing the real challenge in this election as one of the major parties, BNP, chose not to participate. As a result, two-thirds of the seats are not contested. However, despite the reduced competition, conflicts, violence, threats, and violations of the code of conduct surrounding the elections persist, leading to one fatality in the ongoing disputes.

Secret meetings, campaigns

Government employees are prohibited from participating in election campaigns or rallies on behalf of any party or candidate. However, at an election rally for Awami League candidate Md. Mujibul Haque in Comilla-11 (Chauddagram) constituency, Joint Secretary of Jatiya Sangsad Secretariat AKMG Kibria Majumder, a former Ministry of Railways employee, was spotted.

The rally took place on Tuesday at Patekhola High School grounds in Jagannathdighi Union, Chauddagram Upazila, where Majumder's residence is also located. 

Majumder, once the assistant education secretary of the Bangladesh Chhatra League Central Committee, claimed to journalists that he was placed on the stage during the election rally when he went to meet the “boat” candidate.

However, local sources assert that he has attended multiple rallies for the boat candidate, and a video of the same has circulated. An inquiry committee has issued a notice to Majumder, requesting an explanation for his involvement. 

A teacher couple from a local government primary school is actively campaigning for Awami League candidate Tanvir Shakil, the current Member of Parliament for Sirajganj-1 (comprising parts of Sadar and Kazipur) constituencies.

The couple, Golam Rabbani, assistant teacher at Mewakhola Government Primary School in Khasrajbari Union, Kazipur Upazila and his wife Rehana Khatun, head teacher of Rajbari Dakshinpara Government Primary School, is seen in pictures and videos circulating on Facebook, participating in rallies, meetings, and distributing leaflets for the boat symbol candidate.

Golam Rabbani claimed ignorance about the rules, while Rehana Khatun mentioned that there are many individuals in the district engaging in similar activities. 

In another incident, a secret meeting of 37 teachers at the residence of Madaripur-2 constituency Member of Parliament Shajahan Khan became public after a video went viral. The video shows Shajahan Khan's younger brother, Obaidur Rahman Khan, addressing the teachers while Shajahan Khan sits beside him.

Addressing the teachers, Obaidur Rahman Khan said, “You must put emphasis on the Madaripur-3 constituency. Tell your relatives to work for the Awami League in the polls.”

He further said, “Your leader Shajahan Khan has been ordered to put emphasis on the Madaripur-3 constituency and run campaigns for that. As per that directive we are working more for this constituency. You too should do the same.”

Asked about this, district returning officer and deputy commissioner Mohammad Marufur Rashid Khan told Prothom Alo on Tuesday that, “It’s definitely a violation of the electoral code of conduct. Action will be taken in this regard.

Meanwhile, the election inquiry committee has served Alok Kumar Das another show cause notice for taking part in the electoral campaign despite being a government official. State minister for public administration Farhad Hossain is the Awami League nominated candidate from this constituency. He will be contesting against former Awami League MP Abdul Mannan.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Alok Kumar Das told Prothom Alo that he has been served a show cause notice on the allegation of taking part in the electoral campaign. He will respond to that, he said.

Meanwhile, another allegation surfaced that Bangladesh Palli Sanchay Bank’s assistant field officer Saidur Rahman is taking part in the election campaign on behalf of state minister for public administration Farhad Hossain on medical leave.

Saidur Rahman admitted to the allegation saying, “I wasn’t aware of the electoral code of conduct.”

In Sirajganj, Chouhali upazila secondary education officer Md Arif Sarker has been accused of pressuring teachers of various edicational institutions to ask people to vote for the boat symbol. Several teachers from the upazila have submitted a complaint in writing to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) through the returning officer.

More incidents of arson and attack

There are new reports of attacks from the Jamalpur-5 constituency. There, an attack was carried out with sharp weapons on the supporters of Awami League candidate and former principal secretary of prime minister Abul Kalam Azad. An electoral camp of the Awami League candidate was also vandalised in the Koidola area in the Shahbazpur union in the district.

Some four people were injured in the incident. They are Masud Mia, 33, Maruf Hossain, 23, Zakir Hossain, 35 and Niamat Ali, 70.

Speaking to Prothom Alo over the phone, the assistant director of the hospital said all of them had serious injuries and are undergoing treatment at the moment.

However, the supporters of the Awami League candidate allege that supporters of independent candidate Md Rezaul Karim were behind the attack. Meanwhile, Rezaul is claiming that the supporters of AL-nominated candidates are blaming them after carrying out the attack.

In the Faridpur-3 constituency electoral camps of AL candidate Shamim Haque and independent candidate were burnt down. Confirming the incident, Faridpur Kotwali police station officer-in-charge (OC) Shahidul Islam said actions would be taken after investigation.

In Madaripur, Awami League candidate Abdus Sobhan Golap has been accused of locking up an electoral camp of independent candidate Tahmina Begum. Two electoral camps of AL candidates from the Mymensingh-4 constituency were vandalised and burnt down in Dapunia Bazar and Nayapara area in the constituency respectively. Both incidents took place in the early hours of Wednesday.

There are reports of vandalising the electoral camps of AL candidates from Gazipur also. The supporters of incumbent MP and independent candidate Muhammad Iqbal Hossain have allegedly burnt down an electoral camp of AL candidate Rumana Ali. The incident occurred at around 3:00 am Wednesday in the East Berababri area of the Gosinga Union in Shripur upazila of the district.

A female member of Kutubpur union parishad in Meherpur Sadar upazila was allegedly harassed and was kicked out of the union parishad premises for denying working for the Awami League candidate on Tuesday. The victim has filed a complaint in writing with the Meherpur Sadar police station and the concerned election inquiry committee.

Meanwhile, in the Manikganj-2 constituency, supporters of AL candidate Mamtaz Begum have been accused of threatening the supporters of a rival candidate to kill. Independent candidate from that constituency Dewan Zahid Ahmmed held a press conference over the incident at his residence in the Baimail area of the Singair upazila yesterday.

Mamtaz Begum denied the allegations saying it is the supporters of the independent candidates who are obstructing her electoral campaign.

What’s in the law?

Some 800 judicial magistrates are monitoring whether the candidates are violating the electoral code of conduct at the field level. Besides, there is an election inquiry committee consisting of judicial magistrates in each constituency.

According to the law, the election inquiry committee will investigate any allegation and submit a report over this to the commission within three working days. The commission will take action on the basis of the report.

Representations of the People Order say the commission can fine a person or a party Tk 20,000 to Tk 100,000 at most or can cancel the candidature of a candidate.

Several candidates have been fined this time. Some of the candidates have been sued. At the same time, a number of supporters of the candidates have been arrested for being involved in clashes.

Lastly, on Thursday, the EC fined AL candidates from the Cumilla-6 constituency AKM Bahauddin Tk 100,000 and from the Barguna-1 constituency Dhirendra Debnath Shambhu Tk 50,000.

Speaking to newspersons, election commissioner Anisur Rahman gave indication that candidatures of some of the candidates might be cancelled. However, such stern action from the EC is yet to be seen.

[Prothom Alo staff correspondents and correspondents from concerned areas helped prepare this report]