Since the voting started at 8am yesterday, seven to eight ruling party men wearing tags of the “boat” symbol occupied each of the five polling booths for men at Kaladema Government Primary School in Barisal city.
Within the next half an hour, 198 votes were cast and all the voters were forced to vote for Awami League's mayor candidate. Two correspondents of The Daily Star present at the centre for half an hour since the voting started witnessed the incident.
The centre has 1,605 votes. No polling agents for other mayoral candidates were seen around the booths.
Asked about the irregularities, presiding officer of the centre Md Ibrahim denied any such incident.
About the absence of polling agents, he said, “The poling agents came in the morning. But I don't know where they are now.”
He rather asked the correspondents to leave the polling centre after taking photos.
Some of the AL activists who were forcing the voters to vote for AL, however, left the polling centre as a mobile team of law enforcers visited the centre around 8:20am. They came back within five minutes after the team left and started forcing the voters again.
Al Amin, a voter of the centre, said he saw AL men obstructing voters, who were known as supporters of other parties, on their way to the centre.
Visiting four booths of Kashipur Government Primary School centre at 9:15am, the correspondents found that AL men, wearing the same “boat” symbol tags, snatched away ballots from voters, stamped and dropped those in the ballot box. Voters, however, were allowed to choose councillor candidates as per their choice.
During half an hour visit at the centre, the correspondent found that at least 10 voters were forced to give away their ballot papers to the AL men.
At Kashipur High School and College centre, the correspondents witnessed similar incidents – they saw at least 10 voters being forced to hand over the ballot papers of mayoral candidates, which the AL men later stamped.
Shahjahan Mridha, a voter of the centre, said AL men forced him to vote for the ruling party mayoral candidate.
Another voter at the centre, Nanna, said there was no point of going to the polling centre as there was no scope for choosing a candidate.
In both centres, no agent of BNP mayoral candidate Mujibur Rahman Sarwar was found.
Six correspondents of this newspaper visited 36 centres, out of the total 123. BNP's polling agents were seen in only three centres and they even left the centres after 9:30am.
The correspondents noticed a large number of ruling party supporters around the polling centres who barred known BNP supporters from entering the centres.
AL activists also asked the journalists not to take photographs, both inside and outside the polling centres.
Anwarul Haque Tarin, assistant general secretary of Barisal city BNP, said the ruling party men forced their agents out of the polling centres.
Around 8:40am at Imam Gazzali Academy Dakhil Madrasa under ward 30, at least two women alleged that AL men accompanied them up to the booth for casting votes and forced them to stamp on the boat symbol.
One of the correspondents witnessed at least two such incidents at the centre.
Ruling party men were seen entering the centre before the very eyes of law enforcers without any obstacle. They also asked journalists to leave the centre.
Mostafizur Rahman, presiding officer of the polling centre, denied any irregularities.
At Government Barisal College centre under ward 19, a large number of under-aged boys were found standing in queues to cast votes at 8:05am. As several dozen journalists visited the centre, they left the spot.
AL candidate Serniabat Sadiq Abdullah cast his vote at the centre. Within half an hour, 116 votes were cast at the centre.
At Sahara Institute of Technology under ward 26, AL men stuffed ballot boxes in front of journalists and the presiding officer around 11am. Till 11am, 630 votes out of 1,715 were cast there. But presiding officer Manjur Sohel denied any such irregularities.
Mahbubur Rahman, a voter from Jagua High School and College centre, said he returned home without casting his vote as some youths asked him to vote for “boat”.
The presiding officer of Syada Majidunnesa High School centre suspended voting as ruling party men from outside occupied the centre and stuffed ballot boxes.
Vote taking at Barisal City College centre under ward 17 remained suspended for half an hour from 12:30pm as ruling party men snatched ballot papers from one of the booths. Monirul Islam, presiding officer of the centre, confirmed the matter.
Md Helal Uddin, assistant returning officer of Barisal City Corporation polls, refused to make any comment over the irregularities at the polling centres.
During the polls no serious violence occurred in the city. Different law enforcement agencies including Rapid Action Battalion (Rab), Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and magistrates were seen patrolling.