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An election without opposition polling agents

  • Published at 02:43 am December 31st, 2018
WEB_Election_Rajib Dhar
Polling agents of the BNP-led Jatiya Oikya Front, the key opposition platform, were largely absent Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

Polling agents of the ruling Awami League were seen at all polling centres

The much-hyped 11th parliamentary election was held across Bangladesh amid tight security – and in the absence of polling agents of the BNP-led Jatiya Oikya Front, the key opposition platform in the polls. 

Although polling agents of the ruling Awami League were seen at all polling centres, the leaders of the Oikya Front – formed only two months ago – claimed their agents had been beaten up and kicked out of the polling centres by the ruling party men. 

Election Commissioner Mahbub Talukdar, who cast his vote at the Ispahani Girls’ School polling centre in Dhaka’s Eskaton area, said he did not find any opposition party polling agents at the centre. 

“I have received several hundred phone calls about this, and many other allegations about irregularities,” he further said. 

When asked for a comment on the allegations by the opposition, as well as whether he was satisfied about the overall situation on Sunday, the election commissioner refused to comment. 

“You [the journalists] tell me. You know better than me. Ask your colleagues how the voting is going,” he told the reporters. 

The Dhaka Tribune independently observed nearly 200 polling centres across the capital on Sunday, and hardly found any polling agents of the BNP and Oikya Front. 

The Oikya Front chief Dr Kamal Hossain, after casting his vote at the Viqarunnisa Noon School and College polling centre in Bailey Road, alleged that their agents had been thrown out of the polling centres. 

“We have our agents here [Viqarunnisa]. But we are getting news that our agents are being kicked out of the centres in other places,” he told reporters. “This is the biggest crime. We will demand fair investigation into this.” 

Fake agents

The Dhaka Tribune found several polling agents in different polling centres who posed as Oikya Front polling agents. 

At Azimpur Government Girls’ School and College in the Dhaka 7 constituency, the Dhaka Tribune spoke with a polling agent, who identified himself as Md Easin Miah and claimed to be the polling agent for Oikya Front candidate Mostafa Mohsin Mishu, general secretary of Gono Forum. 

But when asked to say what the name of the candidate was, he seemed lost and had to go through the list of candidates to confirm who he was working for. 

When asked about it, he later said: “I was forced to be present here as someone asked me to pose as an agent representing the sheaf of paddy symbol.” 

The Dhaka Tribune found similar situations at the Habibullah Bahar College polling centre in the Dhaka 8 constituency, where two agents claiming to be representing BNP could not tell the name of said candidate, Mirza Abbas. 

Real agents obstructed

Minu Ahmed, a polling agent of the Oikya Front candidate Andaleeve Rahman Partho in Dhaka 17, reached her designated polling centre, Titumir College, at 7am, but could not enter until 12pm – until half the time of polling had already gone past. 

“The delay was caused due to the centre authorities’ objection regarding my electoral documents,” she claimed when the Dhaka Tribune spoke with her. “But finally, they let me in after finding nothing wrong with my papers.” 

She said out of the eight agents of the Oikya Front assigned to the centre, only she and another agent had been able to get in. 

She further said she had been threatened by the ruling party members in the area with dire consequences. 

Marfudul Haq, presiding officer at the Mohakhali Abdul Hakim Dorji Government Primary School polling centre, said there had been no Oikya Front polling agent there.

Near that centre was the Mohakhali Model High School centre, where there were only two polling agents of the opposition alliance.

SM Sonet, one of those agents, said they were supposed to get more polling agents, but that did not happen for “some unavoidable reason.” 

Polling centres in the Dhaka 14, 15 and 16 constituencies – covering Mirpur – also had no opposition party polling agents, especially the BNP.  

Sumon Dhali, executive member of the Jubo Dal in Mirpur who was a BNP polling agent in the area, said: “The local Awami League leaders did not allow us to station our polling agents at the Ahsania Mission Mohila High School and Combined School centres.” 

Showing his torn shirt-buttons, Sumon alleged that he had been beaten by the ruling Awami League leaders while entering one of the centres.

Polling agents for Islami Andolan Bangladesh, contesting with the hand fan symbol, were seen at some five centres, but many of them were found leaving before 12pm. 

However, the ruling party polling agents, along with the party leaders and activists, were seen milling around inside and outside over 60 polling centres in those constituencies.  

When asked in this regard, at least 20 presiding officers said they could not do anything if BNP could not provide their agents’ names on time on time, or at least before the polling started. 

But when asked, Sumon Dhali claimed they had provided their agents’ names on Saturday, but the agents either got arrested, or were forced to withdraw their names by police.  

Similar incidents of expelling or not allowing polling agents of the BNP and Oikya Front into the polling centres were reported all over the country. 

Jewel Mondal, a voter in Gazipur 2, said: “I did not see any polling agents of the opposition in my centre. It was the same in almost all the centres here, as far as I know.” 

Problematic since the beginning

The BNP and its coalition Oikya Front has had trouble convincing the party activists to become polling agents as early as when the election schedule was declared on November 8, because the activists feared attacks by ruling party men, or police harassment, or both. 

BNP alleged that the ruling party had engaged in a campaign of fear against BNP’s field-level leaders and activists across the country, while police continued arresting them on no grounds. 

Many BNP members fled home to escape arrest, and the party as a result could not assign their agents in every polling centre, sources in the party said. 

BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir expressed discontent with the general election, citing that massive irregularities had taken place. 

Speaking to reporters at the Thakurgaon Collectorate Public School and College polling centre after visiting several polling centres in his constituency, Thakurgaon 1, Fakhrul said: “BNP polling agents are not being allowed into several polling centres, including Thakurgaon Government College, Balapara Govt Primary School, and Begunbari Madrasa.” 

The senior BNP leader also said upon visiting Thakurgaon Government College, he saw only one female polling agent, who told him she had only been allowed in after the people inside spotted Fakhrul’s car.

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) KM Nurul Huda, who cast his vote at the IES School and College polling centre in Uttara, Dhaka, also said there had been no BNP polling agents in the centre.  

When questioned further as to why such is the case, the CEC said: “There is nothing we can do if they do not come.”

 Dhaka Tribune correspondents Ibrahim Hossain Ovi, Saidun Nabi, Arifur Rahman Rabbi, Kamrul Hasan and Zakir Mustafiz Milu contributed to this report

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