Flew over Falu's Nest
corruption and unprecedented rigging in the Dhaka-10 by-poll
are reminiscent of the elections held in the forlorn days
of military rule. Once again people have been denied their
right to vote; this time by a government that enjoys absolute
majority in the parliament.
10:30 in the morning. At the Udayan High School polling centre,
a group of Jatyatabadi Chatra Dal (JCD) leaders were seen
lurking around the area, which had as many as 2,619 votes.
"Don't waste your time here. Your votes have been cast;
have ice-cream and leave the place," a JCD worker told
six voters. "Our strategy was quite simple. In the first
hours of the day, we cast votes of those who were unlikely
to cast for Falu bhai," said a BNP-loyalist
to the Daily Star (DS) reporter. "The party hierarchy
said we would be held responsible if Falu bhai fails
to get 80 percent of the votes in this centre," another
JCD leader reasoned for this unsolicited service to the voters.
old farce was re-enacted in all the 103 polling stations of
the constituency. Rigging, in fact, began literally before
the election saw the light of the day. Truckloads of BNP-men--
most are not voters of the area-- gathered at different parts
of the city in the early morning of July 1. The much-talked
about by-poll turned into a sham within two hours. "Fake
voters from Demra, Lalbagh, Kamrangir Char, Motijheel and
Shabujbagh 'cast' votes mostly between 8 am and 10 am,"
a DS report says.
the polling centres remained off-limits to the agents of the
opposition Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh (BDB). Hoodlums belonging
to the ruling party even manhandled BDB candidate Major (retd)
Abdul Mannan in the Hossain Ali Primary School centre in the
early morning. "The government did not deploy the army
at the polling centres," an angry Mannan told the journalists
while leaving the booth in a press car. "I had no option
but to boycott the election and appeal to the election commission
to cancel the Dhaka-10 by-poll," he continued.
voters press stamps against their ballot papers in the open
rather than inside the polling booth at a centre at Curzon
Hall at Dhaka University.
was, however, a different story inside the red building of
the election commission secretariat. Chief Election Commissioner
Abu Sayed went abroad on a long vacation; and the Acting Chief
Election Commissioner (ACEC) Safiur Rahman was not in the
office when Mannan, along with fellow BDB MP Mahi B Chowdhury,
stormed the EC secretariat at around 1:45. Munsef Ali, one
of the election commissioners, was holding the fort. And when
Mannan complained that army-men were not deployed in every
polling centre, Munsef replied, "But I have seen them."
Mahi B Chowdhury, this time, ran him through Mannan's plea.
But, a visibly unperturbed Munsef stuck to his guns and replied,
"I have seen members of the army in both the centres
I have visited." At this point Mannan just lost his cool.
"You are telling a lie," the BDB candidate hollered
at the election commissioner. Munsef, too, reacted angrily,
"You can't speak like this. It is you who is lying.”
Rahman, the ACEC, did not buy Munsef's idea. "The High
Court order (regarding deployment of army in every polling
centre) was flouted and there was no polling agent of Bikalpa
Dhara at most centres," Safiur told the awaiting journalists.
"Voting was unrealistic at some times…I can only
say the poll was not totally satisfactory," he continued.
voters being herded on to a bus in front of Bishal Centre
in Moghbazar on an impersonation mission.
ACEC's first-hand knowledge about the by-poll, however, was
unmistakably sour. While visiting the BG Press Government
Primary School polling centre Safiur found around 50 percent
votes had been already cast, though he could not find a single
voter in the booth.
however, has refused to cancel the results of the by-poll.
We do not have any evidence of polling centre captures or
stuffing of ballot boxes, he said. Election cannot be annulled
on the ground of the absence of army alone, he continued.
Safiur, however, said, "I hope legal action will be taken
against individuals responsible for the violation of electoral
laws. The High Court will take legal action if the matter
is brought to its cognisance." The EC has not done that
well in the BNP camp though. While independent observers have
denounced the result by terming it "a farce", Abdul
Mannan Bhuiyan, the BNP general secretary has described the
election as "free, fair and peaceful". Bikalpa Dhara
contested the election not to win it; they just participated
in the polls only to bring allegations against the BNP as
a strategy for its publicity, the BNP secretary general claims.
Murshid, chairperson of Brotee, an independent election monitoring
organisation, has a different story to narrate. "We,
citizens and voters, note with concern, shame and anger the
degradation of the election commission from an independent
constitutional body to a mere expansion of the government
and a tool in the hands of subsequent governments to manipulate
elections," she said while presenting Brotee's report
on Dhaka-10 by-poll.
Dhara activists, left, set up a bamboo-made scale,
tilted heavily to one side, to symbolise a more weighty
government than the High Court. Party Lawmaker Mahi B
Chowdhury, in the middle of first row, along with party
activists lies down at the main entrance to the High Court
building to protest against vote rigging by the ruling
alliance in Dhaka-10 by-polls.
Abdul Matin, secretary general of Fair Election Monitoring
Alliance (FEMA), agrees. Matin describes the election as "an
unusual event in the history of the country", and a "one
sided show". Sacks of ballot papers in the possession
of the assistant presiding officers of most of the polling
stations were found to have been stamped in advance with official
seal of the EC to provide ample scope for stuffing, a FEMA
report says. The participation of voters, according to Brotee's
report, was very low too. Though the total presence of voters
is recorded as 73 percent, the average vote cast was a mere
38 percent; 35 percent of the genuine voters left the booths
without casting their ballots, the report alleges. "Of
the 38 percent votes cast, 55 percent were false, and the
rest 45 percent were genuine," Brotee, which has used
"vote matrix" to monitor the by-poll, says.
meanwhile, staged demonstrations at the entrance to the High
Court on July 8. The BDM workers carried a coffin and a scale
to protest what they said "the death of democracy and
massive rigging in the by-poll". "These are all
about Dhaka-10 by-poll. The coffin is the symbol of the corpse
of democracy," Mahi B Chowdhury said.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004