Upazila polls: AL locks in clashes among its own men

The ruling Awami League leaders and activists have made their own men political opponents and locked in clashes as there was no political competition in the recently-concluded upazila parishad elections.

Seven people were killed during the four-phase elections and about 1,000 people were injured in these factional clashes.

Almost every phase of this local government election saw clashes. However, casualties were reported in Jashore, Kushtia, Cox’s Bazar, Gopalganj, Narsingdi, Brahmanbaria and Sirajganj.

Some 172 persons were accused over these killings in these seven districts. Although police arrested 19 of them, the masterminds of these incidents remain out of touch in most of the cases.

The voters barely had any interest in this election without any opposition. The upazila polls this time also saw the lowest votes cast in its history as most of the opposition parties boycotted the polls.

The allocation of party symbols in local government polls was introduced first in the upazila polls of 2015. The internal discord within the Awami League has been exacerbating since then.

The ruling party opened the option for its local leaders to contest against the party candidates independently to ensure a competitive upazila polls after the major opposition parties boycotted the general elections on 7 January. As a result, the factional clashes further escalated within the ruling party.

According to the Human Rights Support Society (HRSS), some 15 people were killed from the day the election schedule was declared till a week after the voting day. Besides, some 2,200 sustained injuries.

The information sent by the Prothom Alo correspondents from different parts of the country shows as many as seven persons were killed within 10 days of the election day during the upazila polls. All of them were activists or supporters of the ruling party.

The sixth upazila elections were held four months after the national polls. The month-long election in phases ended on 9 June. As the AL gave its members the opportunity to run for the polls against the party nominated candidates, there were several party leaders in each upazila contesting each other.

According to the election commission, voter turnout was the highest at 37.47 per cent and the lowest at 34.33 per cent during these four phases of elections, and this time the upazila polls saw the lowest voter turnout in history.

Awami League’s policymaking leaders said a decision was taken not to allocate party symbols during the local government election to avoid disputes in the party. Yet, causality could not be avoided and that widened the party division.

Sources concerned further said the party has been in power for long, and there has been a perception in the party that it will be easier to amass wealth overnight by establishing dominance in the area once they become public representatives. For this, many of them become desperate to win the election at any cost, and that has been one of the major reasons behind the increased internal feud.

Several leaders of Awami League, however, said violence and causality are nothing new in the local government elections and even if oppositions including BNP joined the polls, clashes would happen between the ruling party and them.

Awami League joint general secretary AFM Bahauddin Nasim claimed this time clash and causality took place less than before, and what happened was not wanted.

Internal clash claims lives

According to Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), 191 people were killed in the internal conflict of the Awami League from 2018 to March this year with many of them losing their lives over establishing supremacy or in poll violence.

A total of 933 incidents related to political violence took place last year, leaving 96 people dead and injuring 9,258 others, according to the Human Rights Support Society (HRSS).

According to ASK, the country saw the highest number of deaths from poll violence in 2016 with 177 people losing their lives mostly in union parishad elections.

Negligence to arrest the accused

People involved in politics said trial hardly happens over political violence in the country, and if the influential people of the ruling party get involved, then it becomes more difficult to get justice.

Lastly, Jubo League activist Ali Hossain was shot dead in Bahadurpur of Sadar upazila in Jashore in the dead of night on 6 June. He was a supporter of the winning chairman candidate Towhid Chakladar. The family alleged Nowab, an activist of the defeated chairman candidate Fatema Anwar, killed Ali Hossain. No arrest, however, has been made yet.

Vice chairman candidate Sumon Mia was killed in an attack by the rivals during the poll campaign in Raipura upazila of Narsingdi, and his opponent Abid Hasan, who vied the polls with goggles symbol, was made the prime accused in the murder case. Another 26 were also named in the lawsuit and 40-50 unidentified persons were also accused. Police arrested six people but the prime accused is still at large.

Investigating officer Sajib Khan told Prothom Alo the fugitive will be arrested soon.

Nasir Uddin, the father of slain Sumon Mia, told Prothom Alo they would not feel relief until the accused including prime accused Abid Hasan are arrested. Police said effort is underway, but they can tell only how much they are actually trying.

Torikul Islam, general secretary of the Awami Matsyajibi League’s Chapra union Ward No 3 unit, was injured in an attack by the rivals during vote counting at a polling centre in Kumarkhali, Kushtia on the voting day of the second phase upazila election. He succumbed to injuries on 26 May. A case was filed, but police are yet to arrest any accused.

District detective branch officer-in-charge (OC) Mahfuzur Rahman told Prothom Alo that police conduct raids every day to catch the accused, who might have gone outside the district.

Safur Alam was stabbed to death in Eidgaon upazila of Cox’s Bazar while returning home after the voting of the second phase election ended. The victim’s father Nur Uddin filed a murder case against 10 people. Eidgaon police station OC Ranjan Chakma told Prothom Alo that four accused have been arrested while six others secured bail from the High Court.

Wasikur Bhuiyan was killed in a gun fight between two groups in Chandra Dighalia Bazar of Sadar upazila in Gopalganj. He was a supporter of defeated chairman candidate BM Liakat Ali. The attackers were the supporters of winning candidate Kamruzzaman Bhuiyan. A murder case was filed accusing 23 people including Kamruzzaman Bhuiyan and 40-50 unidentified people. Four people were arrested, but the main accused remained out of touch.

Abdul Alim, a relative of defeated chairman candidate Badiuzzaman Fakir, came under attack by the supporters of winning chairman candidate Aminul Islam Sarkar in Belkuchi of Siraganj after the result of the first phase of the election was announced. He succumbed to his injuries later. A case was filed against seven people and police have arrested four people so far.

Chhatra League activist Ashraful Alam was killed at point blank range in broad daylight during a victory procession of the winning chairman candidate in Sadar upazila of Brahmanbaria on 5 June. Police arrested ‘one of the masterminds’ of the killing, Hasan Al Farabi alias Joy. Police said quoting the accused that Ashraful Alam was killed over opposing various decisions of the party.

The ruling party is also concerned over clashes and casualties centring on the upazila elections that were boycotted by oppositions. Several leaders of the Awami League think the feud has widened further at the grassroots due to the absence of opposition in the elections.

Regarding this, former election commissioner M Shakhawat Hossain told Prothom Alo that election has no attraction to voters now and it mainly attracts candidates because now it is a very profitable business to become a public representative or hold any party post. As a result, everyone wants to win at any cost, which is why whoever appears as a rival or comes in the way whether they can be their own party or another party, efforts continue to destroy them.

Prothom Alo’s Correspondents from respective areas contributed to this report.