AL didn’t want voter turnout, BNP unable, EC silent

Members of Border Guard Bangladesh patrol on the streets on the eve of Chattogram City Corporation election on 25 January 2021.Jewel Shill

There was no dearth of the people in campaigning for the Awami League and BNP mayoral candidates and of the councillor candidates too. However, the voter turnout at the election on the day of voting was sparse. The voter turnout at the Chattogram City Corporation election on 27 January was only 22.52 per cent.

Earlier in 2015, the voter turnout was 47.9 per cent at the Chattogram city election. Activists and supporters of Awami League’s mayoral candidate AJM Nasir allegedly controlled the polling centres during the election.

According to the accounts of Chattogram’s Awami League and BNP leaders, the local Awami League leaders did not want a large number of voters’ presence at the election. That’s why they took over the polling centres from the beginning and controlled the voter turnout.

On the other hand, BNP wanted voters to turn up in large numbers at the centres. However, the party failed to bring the voters to the polling centres.

General voters and representatives of civil society said, law enforcement agencies failed to create an environment conducive to voting. The role of the election commission was restricted to rhetoric.

There were 19,38,706 voters in Chattogram City Corporation this time. Awami League’s candidate Rezaul Karim was elected mayor bagging 3,69,248 votes only. His main rival BNP’s Shahadat Hossain secured 52,489 votes. A man was killed in clashes on the election day despite about 18,000 members of police, Rapid Action Battalion, Border Guard Bangladesh and Ansar deployed. Two others were killed in clashes during campaigning. Questions have arisen from different quarters concerning the election that cost of lives and the huge public funds.

Regarding the violence and irregularities, Chattogram Metropolitan Police commissioner Saleh Mohammad Tanvir told Prothom Alo they tried their utmost not to get involved in any violence and prevent others too.

He said that the mayor candidates of both parties were gentlemen and so they had no worries about them. But they were worried about the councillor candidates. It was the councilors who carried out violence. Legal action is being taken against those involved in the violence, he added.

On 27 January, the day of the election, leaders and activists of Awami League’s mayoral candidate controlled the voters, taking up position over the polling centres. They even stayed at the secret polling booths to ensure the ballot cast through Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) went in favour of the ‘boat’ symbol. Some voters were also seen protesting and insisting on casting votes for their chosen candidates at a few centres.

Records of centre-wise results revealed, normal voting trends has been destroyed due to polling centre control . BNPs’ candidate Shahadat Hossain bagged no votes at 22 centres. Of the 22, Awami League’s candidate Rezaul Karim secured all votes at 13 centres. More than 90 per cent votes were cast at 9 centres despite very low voter turnout. On the other hand, less than 2 per cent votes were cast at 13 polling centres.

Regarding the low voter turnout, newly-elected mayor Rezaul Karim, at a press conference at his residence on Thursday said, having no holiday on the polling day created a bit trouble. But no country gets 90 to 100 per cent ballot casting.

Voting underway in Chattogram City Corporation on 27 January 2021.
Prothom Alo

Awami League didn’t want high voter turnout

According to sources involved with the election strategy of local Awami League mayoral and councillor candidates, the voters list was scrutinised in advance to determine which parties the various voters supported for whom they would vote. As per plans, separate teams of leaders of Awami League and its associated bodies were formed to control the polling centres. The leaders expected that fewer female voters would choose the boat symbol and so surveillance was heightened at the women’s polling centres. Normally the presence of women voters is high, but not this time.

Besides, party infighting, two killings on the voting day and during the campaign spread alarm among the voters. Awami League leaders said a big portion of minority voters did not cast ballot due to violence. There are about 200,000 voters of the minority community in Chattogram city.

Local Awami League sources said councillors were given the responsibility to bring the voters to the polling centres. That’s why the rival contenders were not forced to withdraw their nominations. Activists of the mayoral candidates were responsible to control inside and outside the centres. Activists and supporters of the mayor candidates maintained control since the morning. But voters belonging to Awami League couldn’t cast ballot due to day-long tensions and clashes among supporters of the councillor candidates at almost every centre.

Voting was held at 39 wards during this city election. As many as 32 rival candidates of Awami League contested in the election.

General secretary of Chattogram city Awami League AJM Nasir Uddin told Prothom Alo, it’s true that less voters cast ballot due to clashes. Besides, BNP activists and supporters did not also vote as much as they participated in the party campaign. Due to the recent trend of not going to the polling stations among BNP voters, Awami League activists and supporters thought their candidates would win even if they don’t go to the centres.

BNP fears law enforcement agencies

BNP leaders knew since earlier that their active leaders, activists and agents would be arrested. About 250 leaders and agents of the party were arrested. But the party leaders think it’s not a big number. They even knew that their agents might be ousted from the centres. For this reason, they planned to use a significant number of their leaders and activists to take voters from their homes to the centres. But it didn’t work.

According to BNP sources, most of their votes were cast in the morning, more specifically, in the first one or two hours after voting began. Then voters didn’t dare go to the centre as news of clashes and ousting polling agents spread.

A Chattogram city BNP leader, on condition of anonymity, told Prothom Alo, their leaders and activists lack determination. If they rushed to the centres in waves, the situation could be different. Some people managed to cast their votes as they pleased when they remained insistent. If the party tried to remain at the centres after getting beaten up, this would boost the morale of the leaders and activists across the country.

Regarding the election, BNP’s mayoral candidate Shahadat Hossain told Prothom Alo, after visiting different centres, 6 per cent of ballots were cast till 2:00 pm. How it did it magically turn to 22 per cent in the last 2 hours? Besides, a certain amount of ballots is kept for the presiding officers to carry out vote rigging through EVM, he claimed.

Highest 94.98%, lowest 1.27%

Voting was held at 735 polling centres in the Chattogram City Corporation election. Ballot casting was postponed at two centres. The lowest voter turnout was 1.27 per cent at Ahmed Mia City Corporation Girls High School centre of the South Central Halishahar ward. Ballot casting was below 2 per cent at seven polling centres in the Central Halishahar ward no. 38. There were 29 centres in the area and one had the highest vote casting with 32 per cent.

Local sources said, a big portion of the voters were office goers in the area. Since there was no general holiday and there was fear of violence, voters didn’t come.

According to the declared results, ballots cast were less than 5 per cent at 49 centres, more than 90 per cent at 9 centres. The highest ballots cast was 94.98 per cent at Ehaul Ulum Arabia Madrasah centre of South Halishahar ward. Votes cast were above 90 per cent in two more centres of this ward. Other than this, it was nearly 90 per cent at 6 centres of Rampur ward no. 25 and above 80 per cent at 10 more centres.

President of NGO Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan), Chattogram chapter, M Sikander Khan told Prothom Alo, the Election Commission and law enforcement agencies couldn’t prevent violence and take the voters to the polling centers without fear.

One party had total control over the centres during the polls while another party was out of the field. Supporters of the people those control the centres didn’t go to vote since they were certain of victory. Besides, why would those forced out of the field to vote when they had no hope, he added.