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Balloting at 55 municipalities in the fourth phase elections began on Sunday amid threat-speeches by ruling party leaders, violation of code of conduct and clash during electioneering.

It is learned from media reports that the leaders instructed the partymen how to ‘stop’ voters from going to the polling centres and threatened voters to leave the locality if they don’t want to vote for ‘boat’, the electoral symbol of Awami League.

The election commission (EC) also was not seen taking any stringent measure though the candidates of opposition parties including the de facto opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), filed written complaints.

Voting started at 8:00am and will continue until 4:00pm without any break. There were different irregularities and violence during all the three phases of municipal elections earlier. EC almost kept mum at that time as well.

The incidents of clash, attack, vandalisation and stopping the opposition candidates from electioneering have been recorded in at least 30 municipalities in the last few days. Among them, 18 municipalities have seen clash between Awami League and BNP leaders and activists while six municipalities have seen clash between the supporters of AL nominated candidates and the 'rebel' candidates of the party.

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Local MPs also were seen violating election code of conduct during electioneering in many places. Earlier, the EC would issue letters to the MPs to make them aware of code of conduct but no such step was taken this time. The EC also was not seen taking strong measures though it has the power to imprison, fine and cancel the candidature for breaching code of election conduct.

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Speaking to the media about preparations for the polls, secretary to the election commission secretariat Humayun Kabir Khandaker on Saturday afternoon said the goal of EC is to hold a free, fair and acceptable election. All the necessary measures have been taken in this regard. There will be three to four armed policemen and 11-13 law enforcement members including Ansar men at every centre. Outside of this, teams of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and police will be deployed for every reserved ward. An executive magistrate will also be deployed at every centre.

When a newsperson asked him what steps the EC has taken to ensure the safety of ‘secret room’ used for casting votes as that secret room was not seen secured earlier, the EC secretary said DIG, SP, DC and returning officers have been directed so that nothing like that happens this time. “The target of the commission is to hold a free, fair and credible election. Directions have been given to do whatever is required to achieve this.”

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News agency UNB adds: Electronic voting machines (EVMs) will be used in 29 municipalities, while traditional ballot papers in the remaining 26 municipalities in the fourth phase polls, said SM Asaduzzaman, the director (public relations) at the election commission secretariat.

There are some 16,67,224 voters in the 55 municipalities. In the election, 55 mayors, 167 women councillors from the reserved seats, and 501 general councillors will be elected.

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A total of 217 mayoral candidates, 618 women councillor candidates, and 2,070 general councillor have been contesting are in the electoral race.

On 3 January, the election commission announced the election schedule for 56 bodies in the fourth phase municipal polls.

Of the 56 municipalities, polls to Natore and Kalkini of Madaripur were postponed at the orders of the court and the election commission respectively, while the candidates in all posts of Parshuram municipality of Feni were elected unopposed, finding no single contender against each post there.

But later two more municipalities -- Sonaimuri of Noakhali and Trishal of Mymensingh -- were incorporated in the fourth phase election.

The election to 24 municipalities was held on 28 December last year, 60 municipalities on 16 January and 62 municipalities on 30 January.

The election to another 31 municipalities is scheduled to be held on 28 February in the fifth phase.

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