Bangladesh: Opposition Pulls Out of City Polls, Citing Heavy Vote-Rigging

By Kamran Reza Chowdhury and Shahriar Sharif
2015.04.28
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150428-BD-bnp-620 Moudud Ahmed (second from right), a member of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s standing committee, announces its boycott of City Corporation polls, April 28, 2015.
BenarNews

Just four hours after polls opened on Tuesday, Bangladesh’s main opposition party pulled its candidates out of municipal elections in Dhaka and Chittagong, accusing the ruling Awami League of “massive fraud and violence.”

BNP leaders hurriedly called a noontime press conference in Dhaka to announce their party’s decision to quit the Dhaka North, Dhaka South and Chittagong City Corporation races.

“From this moment, we withdraw all of our candidates from polls. What is taking place is not polls; we reject these,” Moudud Ahmed, a member of the BNP’s standing committee, told reporters.

The decision by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to boycott the City Corporation elections handed the ruling party a “walkover” victory only a few hours into polling, according to the Daily Star newspaper.

The move also dashed hopes that the BNP was finally re-entering the political arena after a hiatus of many months in contesting an election.

Ahmed also blamed the Election Commission (EC) for being partisan, saying it was acting at the Awami League’s command.

“We requested the commission to deploy the army to oversee the polls. It first agreed and then said the army would remain in the cantonment but would be called out if the situation demanded,” Ahmed said.

“Today’s rigging once again proved that no fair polls were possible under this government and the present election commission,” he added.

Threats


BNP-backed candidates told reporters they were backing out back out because of threats received from people linked with the Awami League.

The Daily Star also reported widespread voting irregularities.

Its correspondents had witnessed the stuffing of ballot boxes “by ruling party men in the presence of election officers at 10 centers in Dhaka and five centers in Chittagong,” the paper reported.

In response to the BNP’s allegations, Hasan Mahmud, publicity secretary for the ruling party, called them “nonsense.”

“The BNP armed cadres tried to occupy many polling centers, throwing [Molotov] cocktails. They have injured many of our workers. They now boycott the polls, fearing defeat,” he told reporters in Chittagong.

The boycott was a “pre-planned” decision to “discredit the government and the election commission,” said Awami League Joint Secretary-General Mahbubul Alam Hanif.

Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Raqibuddin Ahmed also rejected the BNP’s allegations. He said voting was held amid a festive atmosphere and a large turnout.

“Some of my colleagues and I visited several polling centers today and we asked voters whether they had any problem in casting their ballots and everybody said ‘no,’” he told a news conference at EC headquarters.

'Not a real victory'

However, a BenarNews correspondent, who visited nearly 20 polling centers, reported violence perpetrated by armed, government-backed supporters.

In some cases, members of law enforcement agencies were seen beating opposition supporters. In several centers, polling agents affiliated with opposition-backed candidates were forced out.

The reports of voter intimidation and polling irregularities drew the attention of Marcia Bernicat, the U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh.

“Winning by hook and crook is not a real victory,” she said in a message posted on Twitter.

The ambassador also called for a thorough and impartial investigation into the allegations of electoral fraud.

New turmoil ahead?

The BNP withdrawal dampened a festive mood among the voters, who queued in long lines before polling stations opened at 8 a.m.

Many voters were seen leaving the centers shortly after the boycott announcement was broadcast live at noon.

“I lost interest in voting as the BNP candidates withdrew. The ruling party candidates will easily win,” Monowar Hossain, a voter in Dhaka, told BenarNews.

Observers say the boycott could cause a new round of political turmoil in Bangladesh, which just emerged from a three-month long economic blockade, led by the BNP.

It resulted in violence that claimed the lives of 120 people and also brought about U.S. $20 billion in economic losses, according to the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI).

“The city corporation polls gave the people a respite from the three months of politics of blockade and hartals [strikes], as the BNP and its allies took part in the polls,” Nizam Uddin Ahmed, a professor of political science at Chittagong University, told BenarNews.

“This is a bad signal for the politics. It may be aggravated again,” he said.

Jesmin Papri in Dhaka contributed to this report.


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