Tensions around the polls continue to remain high mainly due to the conflict between the Awami League-backed councillors and the rebel candidates
Voters of the premier port city will choose their mayor and councillors for the next five years by casting their ballots today amid worries of violence.
Awami League mayoral aspirant Rezaul Karim Chowdhury and his main rival, the BNP's Shahadat Hossain, are in the race for the mayoral post.
Seven other mayoral candidates and 172 councilor candidates for general wards, and 57 women's reserve seat candidates have joined the electoral race.
Voting is scheduled to start at 8am and will continue till 4pm, without break.
Two Awami League factions of Chittagong have been fighting one another ahead of the polls.
One group is led by a member of parliament and the other group is led by the outgoing mayor of CCC.
The electoral field has heated up due to the strife between the Awami League-backed and rebel councillor candidates as the ruling party has 32 rival candidates in 41 wards, among whom at least 16 rival councilors candidates are outgoing councilors of their wards. Locals say that clashes might break out in localities on Election Day.
During the election campaign, two activists of Awami League died and several others were injured, including the deputy publicity secretary of the Awami Jubo League, Aditya Nandi.
Chittagong Metropolitan Police (CMP) Commissioner Saleh Md Tanvir said more than 18,000 personnel of different forces – including 9,000 police – would be deployed on the day of voting to ensure security.
During the election campaign, the Election Commission (EC) received around 60 complaints, sources at the Returning Officer's office said.
Awami League central leaders are still trying their best to resolve the infighting and secure a violence-free election.
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Mahbubul Alam Hanif, joint general secretary of the Awami League, who is involved closely with the CCC polls, while talking to Dhaka Tribune from Chittagong on Tuesday, said: “Directives have been issued to all quarters stating that we [Awami League] want a violence-free election. No one will be spared if chaos breaks out.”
BNP-backed candidates alleged that the Election Commission, in most cases, was indifferent to investigating and taking action.
But the commission denied the allegations and said that it was taking action according to the complaints.
Voters sense fear
Lokman Hossain, a grocer in the city’s Oxygen area, said that the festive mood centering on the polls are long gone.
“I am still not sure of casting my vote. I will decide in the morning if I will go to the polling centre or not,” he said.
On the other hand, first-time voters are enthusiastic about the polls.
“My name has been enrolled in the voter list and I am going to exercise my voting right for the first time. I will go to the polling centre no matter what the situation is,” said Tamanna Akhter, a student of a private university.
Also read - Tensions rise as CCC gears up for polls
Prof Muhammad Sekander Khan, the Chittagong chapter president of Sushashaner Jonno Nagorik (Sujan), told the Dhaka Tribune that a sense of fear had gripped voters.
“It is the responsibility of the Election Commission and the administration to dispel these fears,” said Prof Khan, who is also vice chancellor of East Delta University.
Advocate Akhtar Kabir Chowdhury, president of Chittagong city unit of Sacheton Nagorik Committee, under Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), said that the Election Commission, administration and the political parties should come forward to ensure an atmosphere conducive to the polls.
“We do not want any further electoral violence. We expect that voters will exercise their voting rights without any fear and return home safely,” he said.
BNP struggling to find polling agents
“The BNP mayoral candidate alleged that many of his party colleagues who would act as polling agents had been arrested ahead of the polls. The BNP mayoral candidate will be hard put to find agents since polling agents cannot be replaced at short notice,” Prof Khan added.
“Just a day ahead of the polls, the police arrested 56 polling agents. We have requested the Election Commission to release the arrestees as the polling agents are part of the polls. The Returning Officer assured us to look into matter,” said BNP-backed mayoral candidate Shahadat.
Talking to reporters at the Chittagong Regional Election Office on Tuesday after lodging complaints with the CCC Returning Officer over the arrest of BNP men, he said that more than 200 BNP men have been arrested ahead of the polls.
Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, Shafiqul Islam Faruk, Awami League Chittagong city chapter Publicity Secretary, claimed that a festive atmosphere was prevailing in the city.
“The BNP wants to make the polls questionable. Polls will be held peacefully and there is no fear of electoral violence,” he said.
The CCC Returning Officer Md Hasanuzzaman said that the EC had completed all-out preparations and sent all electoral equipment to all the centres, including Electronic Voting Machine (EVMs).
Assuring of polls in a free, fair and impartial manner, the Returning Officer urged voters to exercise their voting rights without any fear.
Police: 58% polling centres ‘risky’
Meanwhile, the police have identified 429 polling centers out of a total of 735 centers as “important” (risky), which is 58% of the total number of polling centers, due to the previous history of violence and strife among the contesting candidates and the latest polls situation.
CMP Commissioner Tanvir assured that all necessary security measures had been taken and that voters could exercise their voting rights without any fear.
This time a total of seven candidates are running for the mayoral post, including Awami League-nominated Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, BNP-backed Dr Shahadat Hossain, MA Matin backed by Bangladesh Islamic Front, Abul Manzur backed by National Peoples Party, Wahed Murad backed by Islamic Front Bangladesh, Jannatul Islam backed by Islami Andolon Bangladesh and independent candidate Khokon Chowdhury.
There are 172 councillor candidates for general wards and 57 women's reserve seat candidates.