Agailjhara upazila unit Awami League had set 10:00am yesterday as the deadline for stamping 70 percent ballots in favour of the party-backed chairman candidate in the upazila polls.
The party men executed the plan in almost all the 38 polling centers in the upazila, forcing both the BNP-backed and AL rebel chairman aspirants to boycott the polls.
Party insiders said AL strongman Abul Hasanat Abdullah, cousin of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, masterminded the plan to ensure victory for party favourite Golam Mortuja Khan in the election.
There was hardly any voter in most of the polling centres after 10:00am. However, there were supporters of Mortuja Khan in the centres.
Very few villagers were seen on the streets of different villages in the upazila, where more than 55 percent voters are Hindus.
Sensing that the Hindus might vote for AL-rebel Jatindranath Mistry, the ruling party men intimidated the religious minorities in many areas, complained locals.
Former general secretary of the upazila unit AL Jatindranath has been expelled from the party for contesting the polls against party decision.
“By 10:00am, we completed stamping 70 percent ballot papers,” said an AL activist at Ratnapur union, preferring not to be named. “I stamped more than 200 ballot papers, but could not cast my ballot,” he added.
The Daily Star found his claim to be true as Abul Hossain, presiding officer at Gaila High School, around 11:30am said over 3,100 votes (69 percent) were cast by then out of the total 4,579 votes at his centre. No voters were present at the polling station at that time.
Visiting nine polling centres in the upazila, this newspaper witnessed random stamping of ballot papers in favour of Mortuja Khan and AL-backed woman vice-chairman hopeful Malina Rani Roy.
The centres are Datterabad Govt Primary School, Beluhar Govt Primary School, Mollahpara High School, Ratnapur Govt Primary School, Madhya Shihipasha Govt Primary School, Sheral Bahumukhi High School, Gaila High School, Paisha High School and Choygram High School and College.
Law enforcers, presiding and polling officers were seen helping the AL men stamp the ballot papers. When journalists entered into the centres, they signalled at the AL men to leave the polling booths.
“Journalists are in our room. You [AL men] should go now,” polling officer Rezaul Karim told the AL men at a polling booth at Madhya Shihipasha Govt Primary School.
Freedom fighter Faruk Hossain was guiding AL men to stamp ballot papers at Beluhar Govt Primary School under Ratnapur Union of the upazila. Enquired about his act, he said he was rigging votes “slightly” as he liked Abul Hasanat Abdullah, also the local lawmaker.
Asked about the large-scale vote rigging by the AL men, Nazrul Islam, a sub-inspector of police, said they had nothing to do except for helping the ruling party men. Most of the presiding officers echoed the views of the cop.
Meanwhile, BNP-backed chairman candidate SM Afzal Hossain and AL-rebel Jatindranath Mistry boycotted the polls within an hour of opening the voting and demanded the upazila returning officer postpone the polls and hold a fresh election later freely and fairly.
The upazila unit BNP called a half-day hartal for today in the upazila protesting vote rigging by ruling party men, Afzal told reporters at a press conference at Agailjhara Press Club around 11:00am.
Asked about the allegations of irregularities, AL-backed candidate Mortuja Khan said his two rivals resorted to a propaganda campaign against him sensing his victory. He claimed that yesterday's polls were free and fair.
Senior Judicial Magistrate Mustafizur Rahman said they fined nine people for trying to rig the polls.
Despite repeated attempts, The Daily Star could not reach Abul Hasanat Abdullah over the phone for his comment.