EC seeks more action to check polls violence

As violence continued with each phase of the Union Parishad polls gone by, the Election Commission has asked the home ministry to ensure a congenial atmosphere for the next phases.

“Maintaining law and order as well as ensuring voters' security, especially minorities', are the prime pre-requisites for free, fair, impartial and peaceful elections,” said the EC in a letter to the home secretary on Sunday.

“The letter has been sent to remind them [ministry officials] of their duties during elections. Their cooperation is very crucial for fair polls,” said EC Secretary Sirazul Islam.

The EC wrote the letter against the backdrop of violence and irregularities that took place centering on the four phases of UP elections between March 22 and May 7. 

Arresting criminals, recovering arms, curbing violence, increasing police patrol and ensuring voters' security are necessary for ensuring a congenial atmosphere for the next phases, it said.

At least 71 people were killed and some 6,000 injured in violence over UP polls until May 4, according to Shushashoner Jannoy Nagorik (Shujan), a citizens' platform for good governance.

Thirteen others were killed in violence as of yesterday from last Thursday, according to The Daily Star findings.

Referring to media reports and field-level findings, the EC in the letter stated that violence had increased with time. Some have been killed and some injured; arson attacks, vandalism and looting took place. In some cases, minorities have come under attacks.

Allegations have been raised against supporters of some candidates of preventing their rivals from submitting nomination papers and intimidating rival candidates. There are even accusations against some law enforcers and other “responsible” field-level officials of favouring particular candidates or remaining inactive when irregularities took place.

Many think that violence has increased because listed criminals are at large and no stern action has been taken against arms-bearers, the EC said in the letter signed by its Deputy Secretary Farhad Ahmad Khan.

The EC asked the home ministry to “intensively” monitor activities of law enforcers and to issue directives to law enforcement agencies and field-level officials to ensure peaceful polls.

Violence has continued since the schedule of the first phase was announced in February. 

Following widespread violence in the first and second phase polls, the EC on April 13 held an emergency meeting with top-level officials of law enforcement agencies and paramilitary forces to discuss the law and order situation.

But that hardly brought any change in the third and fourth phases.

During the latest polls on May 8, the EC suspended voting at 51 polling stations for irregularities.

At Jugirhat Hossenia Hafezia Madrasa polling centre in Munshirhat UP, it suspended the voting because of illegal stuffing of ballot boxes.

On Sunday, the commission asked the returning officer (RO) of the UP under Chauddagram upazila of Comilla to file a case against a presiding officer and an assistant presiding officer for their involvement in stuffing ballot boxes.

It also asked the RO to take necessary measures for suspending a police officer for his “negligence in duties” when criminals were carrying out the illegal act.

Meanwhile, civil society organisations, including Governance Advocacy Forum and Shujan questioned the UP polls due to widespread violence and irregularities.

A deputy secretary of the EC said that in many cases field-level officials temporarily appointed for election duties had not properly informed the EC of the irregularities that took place.

Elections to 725 UPs were held on March 22 in the first phase, 639 UPs on March 31 in the second phase, 615 UPs on April 23 in the third phase and 703 UPs on May 7 in the fourth phase.

Polls to 733 UPs are scheduled for May 28 in the fifth phase and 724 on June 4 in the sixth phase.