• Monday, December 22, 2014

Freedom in the air

Carrots behind vote-rigging

Staff Correspondent
Supporters of Awami League-backed candidates cast fake votes taking ballot papers from Assistant Presiding Office Bikash Chandra Das at Kolakopa Govt Primary School polling centre in Daulatkhan upazila of Bhola at 9:45am Sunday. About 60-70 people actually cast their votes there but the results show 1,026 votes cast and the ruling Awami League-backed candidate got 921 of them. Photo: Md Zakir Hossain
Supporters of Awami League-backed candidates cast fake votes taking ballot papers from Assistant Presiding Office Bikash Chandra Das at Kolakopa Govt Primary School polling centre in Daulatkhan upazila of Bhola at 9:45am Sunday. About 60-70 people actually cast their votes there but the results show 1,026 votes cast and the ruling Awami League-backed candidate got 921 of them. Photo: Md Zakir Hossain

Money, promise of benefits from social safety net programmes of the government and key positions in party committees lured supporters of Awami League-backed candidates into election rigging and widespread violence during Sunday's polls.
The supporters, largely ruling party men, captured polling centres, snatched and stuffed ballot boxes, and carried out other unlawful activities that ensured victory for their party favourites. They made sure their candidates win by a large margin in around two dozens of upazila parishads.
The Daily Star talked to about a dozen leaders and activists in different upazilas who talked about the reasons behind their unlawful activities.
The election results tell their misdeeds.
In Sonagazi upazila of Feni, for example, the Awami League-blessed candidate won the chairmanship bagging more than 1 lakh votes. His challenger backed by BNP only got 8,021 votes.
The result is incredible since the upazila is considered BNP chief Khaleda Zia's backyard. Results from polling centres show that the candidates blessed by the AL got huge leads from centres where ruling party men resorted to rigging.
In Khaza Ahmed Government Primary School polling centre of the upazila, AL supported candidate got 2,149 votes while BNP's 19-party alliance-backed candidate got just one.


The picture in Phulgazi, another upazila of Feni, is almost same.
There the ruling party men captured several polling centres, ousted the agents of opponent candidates and stamped the ballot papers.
Candidates backed by the BNP boycotted the polls and enforced a hartal yesterday in protest.
A number of local AL activists who were engaged in the stuffing of ballot boxes told journalists that activists from other upazilas in Feni also joined in so that they could ensure victory for their party-backed candidates.
And all this was done with the hope of getting benefits in return from the candidate and local lawmaker.
"Apart from money, we were assured that we will get contracts of government development work in the upazila. Our people will have facilities from various safety net programmes like Test Relief, Food for Work, and government relief if we ensured victory of our candidate," said a Chhatra League activist of Sonagazi upazila wishing anonymity.
Leaders and activists of AL and its front organisations gave similar reasons for what they had done.
"We got money for snacks. But above all we worked as per the directives of our party seniors. We divided into teams and were assigned to different polling centres," said Altaf Hossain Bhutto, general secretary of Jubo League unit of Aliapur union in Patuakhali sadar upazila.
In the sadar upazila, the AL-backed contenders had sweeping victories.
The party men also used similar strategies in Baufal upazila of the district.
"We were told that the more the party men could stuff ballot boxes the more they will get benefits from Test Relief and Food for Work programmes," said a union-level AL activist of Dashpara in Baufal.
He said the party men would be evaluated based on their performance in the election.
In the upazila, AL backed chairman candidate got 1,25,770 votes whereas his nearest contestant, a BNP rebel, bagged only 15,360 votes. Like Patuakhali sadar, AL contenders got all three posts.
In Agoiljhara upazila in Barisal, ruling AL men had an easy run in rigging the polls on Sunday. There was hardly any resistance from the administration or the opponent candidates.
Three union level leaders of AL on condition of anonymity said they stuffed ballot boxes uninterrupted and had cast almost 70 percent votes illegally within two hours of the polling stations opening at 8:00am.
The centre-wise result in Agoiljhara upazila showed that the two main challengers of AL-blessed candidate got less than 10 votes in at least 22 polling centres where the AL-favourite got an average 1,500 votes.
Local leaders and activists in Doulatkhan in Bhola, Jibonnagar in Jessore and Bhuapur in Tangail also told The Daily Star what they did and why.

Published: 12:00 am Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Last modified: 12:09 pm Tuesday, March 25, 2014

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