A CCTV camera was installed in the Gaibandha-5 by-election polling centre, facilitating the voting to be directly observed from the Nirbachan Bhaban in Agargaon, Dhaka. This photo of disorder in the centre was taken from the screen set up in the control room there.

The locals in Gaibandha-5 constituency (Saghata-Phulchari) do not know the people who entered the polling booths using their influence and cast votes illegally in the by-election on Wednesday.

Prothom Alo spoke to some 14 presiding officers and nine agents of Jatiya Party (JaPa) to ascertain what actually happened inside the polling centres that day. They said the ‘goons’ at the polling booths were outsiders.

Meanwhile, a number of papers with signatures of the presiding officers went viral on social media. These are claimed to be the election results of some centres. The papers contain the number of votes cast and describe the election to be a fair one. 

The presiding officers concerned admitted the signatures to be authentic, but claimed that they had been compelled to sign the papers before leaving the polling centres, in the face of tremendous pressure from the locals.

Jatiya Party candidate Golam Shahid alleged that followers of the ruling Awami League candidate kicked out his agents from more than a hundred polling centres.

But the ruling party candidate, Mahmud Hasan, binned the allegation, terming it as baseless.

The Awami League men staged demonstrations separately in Saghata and Phulchari upazilas on Thursday, demanding announcement of election results of the polling centres where no irregularities took place.

If that is the case, then it is a criminal offence. The matter should be investigated under the supervision of a commissioner
M Shakhawat Hossain, former election commissioner

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Kazi Habibul Awal announced the closure of voting in the by-polls midway on Wednesday, in the aftermath of allegations of various irregularities.

Asked whether the intruders in the secret room are the so called goons, the CEC said “These are the goons. These are the crooks. Those who do not obey the law, we can call them goon, crook.”

Most of the 14 presiding officers and nine Jatiya Party agents spoke about the intrusion of outsiders into the polling stations. 

Mizanur Rahman, who was a polling agent of Jatiya Party at Beragram Government Primary School, said the ruling party activists kicked him out of the polling centre at the beginning of voting. Later, they cast votes in favour of the ‘boat’ symbol using their influence.

Mizan also said that none of the intruders were known to him. They all were outsiders. 

Shajahan Miyan, another polling agent of the Jatiya Party, said his party appointed four agents at the polling centre, but they all were thrown out by the ruling party activists. 

Jahangir Miyan, a Jatiya Party agent at Gobindapur Government Primary School polling centre, said there were eight agents of Jatiya Party at the centre. But the  supporters of the ‘boat’ symbol intimidated them and threw them out of the centre.

The issue was reported to the police and the presiding officer, but no action was taken against them, he added.

On condition of anonymity, a polling officer of the centre said some people entered the secret room and ensured voting in favour of ‘boat’. Presiding officer Alim Uddin said he brought the JaPa agents back to the polling centre after receiving complaints.

Faruk Sarder, Rubel Miyan, and Azadul, other agents of JaPa, also made similar complaints. 

Superintendent of Gaibandha Police (SP) Touhidul Islam said he witnessed a peaceful election. No one lodged complaints over chaos or showing power at the polling booth. 

Belal Uddin, the presiding officer of Bharatkhali High School polling centre in Saghata, said a ruling party agent was casting votes simultaneously in two booths. Seeing such a scene through the CCTV camera, the election commission ordered the suspension of voting at the centre.

The JaPa candidate said more than 100 of his agents were kicked out from 145 centres. He himself could not cast his vote. After reaching Kazi Azahar Ali High School centre in Saghata, he found all the rooms filled with people. Later, he went back without casting his vote. 

On the other hand, the ruling party candidate, Mahmud Hasan, termed the complaints as baseless and said none of his followers threw out JaPa and other polling agents and obstructed them. Rather, he demanded the announcement of election results except for the suspended centres. 

Leaders and activists of Saghata and Phulchari upazilas staged demonstrations on Thursday. They brought out a procession from the Saghata upazila parishad around 12:00pm. Meanwhile, the ruling party men held a procession in Phulchari and set fire on the highway around 11:00am. 

Five candidates contested the election. They are – Mahmud Hasan from Awami League, AHM Golam Shahid from JaPa, Jahangir Alam from Bikalpa Dhara, and Nahiduzzaman and Syed Mahbubur Rahman as independent candidates. All, except for the ruling party candidate, boycotted the election after reports of irregularities. 

White paper goes viral

The white papers, signed and sealed by the presiding officers at its bottom, mentions that the election has been conducted properly. 

Mahmudul Hasan, the presiding officer of Bera Government Primary School center in Saghata upazila, told Prothom Alo that the locals surrounded them and demanded written results of voting when they were preparing to leave the centre following the suspension order. In the face of pressure, he provided written results on white papers and left the centre. 

Another presiding officer Abdul Latif echoed the remark and said he had to sign the result paper before leaving the polling centre at Jadurtair Government Primary School. 

All the nine presiding officers came up with similar remarks.  

Kamrul Islam, assistant returning officer of the by-election, said they received no white paper with election result. He is unaware how the papers went viral on facebook. 

Former election commissioner M Shakhawat Hossain said, “If that is the case, then it is a criminal offence. The matter should be investigated under the supervision of a commissioner.

“What was their role will come out through the CCTV footage. At the same time, it should be investigated whether the election officials and law enforcement agencies immediately reported to the election commission about the incidents of breaking the CCTV cameras and shutting down the routers of various polling stations,” he added.