A polling station at Narayanganj-5 constituency. Photo: Star
The Osman family has won the Narayanganj-5 by-polls amid allegations of widespread intimidation of voters.
Selim Osman, the candidate of the main opposition Jatiya Party and brother of ruling Awami League lawmaker Shamim Osman, beat independent candidate SM Akram by 16,742 votes in yesterday's polls that saw a low turnout.
Selim bagged 82,856 votes and Akram 66,114 votes in the battle of ballots that took place about two months after the gruesome seven murders in Narayanganj. The killings brought Shamim Osman under the spotlight since the prime accused in the murder case is one of his close aides.
The election appeared to be a determining factor as to whether the political dominance of Osman family, already mired in controversy for the unlawful activities of its members, would suffer a blow or be consolidated further.
In some polling stations in the constituency, supporters and campaigners of Selim were seen casting fake votes and stuffing ballot boxes.
They staged showdowns in front of most of the 141 polling stations and stayed there until the polling ended, creating a sense of panic among voters.
Selim's supporters, who enjoyed the AL's blessings, allegedly obstructed voters who they considered loyal to the rival camp.
They also drove away Akram's polling agents from at least seven polling stations, alleged the chief election agent of the independent candidate.
Shamim Osman even hurled threats at Assistant Superintendent of Police Bashir Ahmed, who had barred some of Selim's followers from casting fake votes at Keodhala Primary School in Madanpur union.
Akram last night rejected the election results and claimed there had been rigging and casting of fake votes in at least 30 polling centres.
He alleged that his polling agents were driven out of those polling centres by Selim's followers with the help of law enforcers and the administration.
It has been proved from this election that the government does not want to see “fair politics” flourish in the country, and the Election Commission is good for nothing, Akram said at a press briefing at his Sanarpukur house in Narayanganj.
Difficulties in finding out voters' serial numbers also contributed to the low turnout, only about 45 percent. Despite frantic attempts, many voters could not cast ballots as they failed to find their voter numbers at polling centres.
Interestingly, no incident of violence took place during the polls that clearly lacked a sense of festivity and enthusiasm among voters.
The parliamentary seat fell vacant following the death of JP lawmaker Nasim Osman, who was elected unopposed in the January 5 national elections, on April 30. The AL had decided to leave the seat to the JP.
Though two more candidates were in the race, the battle of ballots was fought mainly between Selim and Akram.
The polling began at 8:00am and ended at 4:00pm amid a huge presence of law enforcers.
Three teams from The Daily Star visited 35 of the 141 voting centres in the constituency, and found a thin presence of voters in the first half of the polling.
The turnout, however, started increasing in the second half.
For example, only 15 votes were cast in the first one hour of polling at Kurimari High School centre in Bandar area. But the number went up to 1,500 in the end.
Some other polling centres also witnessed a poor turnout in the first half. Only 200 votes were cast in the first three hours at Narayanganj Club Ltd centre that has 3,656 voters.
"The turnout is very low. We don't know what will happen in the afternoon and why voters are not coming," Shah Alam, presiding officer at the centre, said in the morning.
Narayanganj High School and College was one of the polling centres where only a handful of voters were seen waiting. The centre has 2,101 voters, but only 250 ballots were cast till 11:30am.
"By-polls usually witness a low turnout as people take less interest in them," said Mokbul Hossain, presiding officer at the centre.
Talking to The Daily Star, a number of voters said people preferred to stay back home either fearing violence and backlash or for a lack of interest.
"We don't want to be in trouble for going to the centre," said a grocer when asked why he had not cast his vote.
He said if Selim Osman was defeated, they would be blamed for casting ballots against Selim in the by-polls.
Some voters at Narayanganj Bar Academy alleged that Selim's campaigners asked them to go back home without casting ballots. A large number of Selim's supporters were in front of the centre.
Around 12:00noon, a correspondent of this newspaper found a youth casting a fake vote at Narayanganj Government Girls College centre.
Another youth was found trying to cast a vote for an aged voter named Akram Hossain Palash at a booth in the centre around 3:00pm.
Challenged by the correspondent, he left the scene hurriedly.
Asked, Polling Officer Mohammad Nuruzzaman said a few people came to cast fake votes, but they were driven out.
Claiming himself as Sukumar Roy, another youth tried to cast a vote at booth-2 of Narayanganj Bar Academy centre. But the polling officer challenged him as his face didn't match with Sukumar's photo on the voter list. The officer then drove him out of the booth.
Minutes before the voting was to end, a group of youths stormed booth-3 and stuffed ballot boxes for nearly 15 minutes. When a photographer of this newspaper started taking pictures, the youths surrounded him and kept him confined for several minutes.
They deleted the photographs from his camera and stuffed a Tk 1,000 note into his trouser pocket. When the photographer refused to take the money, they threatened to beat him up.
They then drove him out of the booth, closed the door and continued stuffing the ballot boxes.
On condition of anonymity, some voters said Selim's campaigners paid voters Tk 50 to Tk 2,000 since Wednesday night for casting ballots for the JP candidate.
"I got Tk 400 last night. But don't ask me who gave it," a middle-aged voter in Battala area told The Daily Star.
A salesperson at a shop near Kuripara polling centre said, "It doesn't matter who you vote for … the fate of the election has already been sealed. Osman [Selim] will win."
Selim's campaigners bought votes the night before the election, the shopkeeper said.
Mahbubur Rahman, chief agent of Akram, alleged that their polling agents were driven out of different centres, including Kumudini Welfare Trust, Nalua Government Primary School (No-13), Madhabpasha Government Primary School, and Barpara Government Primary School.