It was around 3:50pm when Sirajus Salekin went to a polling centre at University Laboratory School and College on Dhaka University campus yesterday to cast his vote.
The fresh DU graduate was excited as he like many other first time voters believed that their vote can make a difference.
Soon his excitement turned into frustration as the polling officials at the centre said the voting time was over. Though he still had around 10 minutes left before the deadline [4:00pm], the officials seemed to be adamant about their decision.
Sirajus demanded an explanation. The answer this time was even more surprising.
The officials said they ran out of ballot papers at the centre.
“How can that be? I was yet to cast my vote. This meant someone might have cast it already,” said a frustrated Sirajus.
Not just him, he said there were four others who suffered the same fate.
“I protested the incident and informed the law enforcers about it, but to no avail,” he said. “Soon afterwards, I saw some ruling party men gathering inside the centre. It made me scared and I left the place right away,” he said.
This was just one example of what transpired at the three polling centres inside University Laboratory School, where Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) activists rigged vote spontaneously, at times even in front of the polling officials and law enforcers.
Leaders and activists of the pro-Awami League student body, in groups, were seen casting “false” vote for “boat”, Awami League's electoral symbol. And, their enthusiasm reached its peak after noon.
Two correspondents of The Daily Star were present at the centre during the entire voting hours [from 8:00am to 4:00pm] and could identify some BCL leaders.
At 12:15pm, around 20 BCL activists of DU, who are mostly first and second-year students at the university, entered a polling centre and started casting vote for “boat”, although they were not voters of the centre.
Of them, an activist of BCL Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Hall unit of DU cast at least three votes with the voters' slip of Mir Sapur Ali, Rayhanul Ashraf and Abdul Matin Miah, the correspondents found.
Instead of stopping them, the polling officials and law enforcers remained indifferent.
Asked, Nirode Roy, presiding officer at a centre, denied the allegations. He said they did not see any such anomaly. “The election was held in a completely fair and peaceful manner, and all the voters could cast their vote without any hindrance,” he said.
Other presiding officers at the centre echoed him.
These correspondents also found one polling agent from the opposition parties, BNP to be precise, at one polling booth out of the 14 in the three centres.
BNP's polling agent Mahmudul Haque Munna alleged that the law enforcers and polling officials helped the BCL men to carry out the rigging.
At 2:20pm, he left the centre, worrying about his safety.
The voting ended at 4:00pm. The law enforcers did not allow journalists to stay at the polling centres when the counting began.
Earlier, around 8:00am, the BCL men beat up two Chhatra Dal activists, who were present at the centre to observe the election.