Bangladesh: Seven Deaths Mar Union Parishad Polls

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
160322_BD_vote_620.jpg Women line up at the Lakshmipur district community clinic polling center to cast their votes, March 22, 2016.
Focus Bangla

Bangladesh’s first attempt at allowing parties to contest local government, or Union Parishad (UP), elections ended in bloodshed Tuesday with the deaths of seven people in poll-related violence, officials said.

Five people were killed when security forces opened fire after an altercation broke out over election results between supporters of one candidate and an on-duty magistrate in Prijojpur district, local Police Superintendent Mohammad Walid Hossain told BenarNews.

Members of the Border Guard Bangladesh force started shooting in an attempt to rescue the magistrate, he said

“Three people died on the spot while two others died in the hospital,” Hossain said.

Another person was killed in elections-related violence in Barisal district, while two on-duty officials were shot and wounded in Noakhali district, according to Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad. And in southeastern Cox’s Bazar district, one person, Abdul Gafur, was killed in post-electoral violence, the Bangla-language daily Prothom Alo reported.

Meanwhile, six people were injured when someone exploded crude bombs the southern district of Lakshmipur, Khogendra Chandra, the presiding officer of local polling center, told reporters. He said police brought the situation under control.

Government officials had hoped the partisan elections would come off cleanly, but political observers said the use of strong-arm tactics demonstrated that such polling would weaken the democratic practice because of worsening confrontations between rival parties.

Voters in the 712 UPs in 36 districts cast ballots to elect one chairman, nine general members and three reserve (women) members for each UP that is in charge of improving rural infrastructure and overseeing some welfare programs.

Awami League, BNP clash

The ruling Awami League said voting in more than 99 percent of polling centers was  peaceful, but the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) alleged that elections in most of the UPs were marred by violence, fraud and meddling by the ruling party.

“You see the ruling party candidates in many places have occupied polling centers. Some influential opposition candidates and independent candidates have done, too, to cast false votes. You see the level of violence has gone up,” Professor Ataur Rahman, a teacher of political science and former president of Bangladesh Political Science Alumni Association, told BenarNews.

He said the decision to allow candidates to register with political parties was aimed at establishing total control of the ruling party in the most remote areas of the country.

“From now on, the ruling parties would use the political and administrative influence to get its candidates to win so they can control everything. So, it will seriously weaken the democratic practice in the rural areas and take the Awami League-BNP fight to the grassroots,” Rahman said.

In 2015, the Awami League government scrapped the provision of holding non-partisan local elections.

Commissioner: elections were fair

After the vote and the reports of violence, Commissioner Ahmad claimed that the elections largely were fair.

“Apart from some stray incidents, the polls were free, fair and peaceful. We have suspended polling in 56 centers for irregularities. Substantial number of voters cast their votes in a festive mood,” Ahmad told reporters during a press conference at his office.

The BNP boycotted the last general election, in January 2014, alleging that Ahmad’s commission was a puppet of the government.

A BNP opposition team, led by one of its vice presidents, Abdullah Al Noman, demanded that voting be cancelled in 50 Union Parishads, alleging massive fraud and occupation of polling centers.

“The people have witnessed that this Election Commission is dictated by the government and the polls are rhetoric. Most of the 712 Union Parishad were occupied (by musclemen) and widespread fraud took place,” Noman told reporters.

He said the government made the UP polls a political affair to make people uninterested in casting votes in the future.

“They (the government) want to hold the next general elections in an atmosphere where people will not go to the polling centers,” he said.

Some Awami League candidates boycotted the elections, alleging fraud as well.

“I withdraw from the contest as the musclemen have pushed my agents out of the polling centers and cast false votes,” Abdul Malek, the ruling party’s candidate for chairman of the Dorichar Khejuria Union in the Mehendiganj sub-district of Barisal district, told reporters Tuesday morning.


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