Second-phase Voting Today

Fear of violence high

Another 639 unions in 47 districts go to the polls today, a week after violence in the first phase of the elections left around two dozen people dead.

Fear of violence has gripped people in the union parishads (UPs) where Awami League-nominated chairman aspirants and the party rebels are at loggerheads over establishing supremacy.

“Both the groups belong to the ruling party and they are desperate to win. They are so desperate that they could use force and it could lead to violence,” said Abdul Alim, director at Election Working Group, an alliance of 28 civil society organisations working for free and fair elections in the country.

The UP polls are being held on partisan lines for the first time.

Ahead of today's elections, 31 AL-nominated candidates have been elected unopposed. The BNP has no candidate in 79 unions going to the polls in the second phase, according to Election Commission (EC) data.

In many of the unions, the BNP failed to field any candidate as its local leaders are afraid of attacks by AL men, said BNP insiders.

The AL in some districts, including Tangail, has expelled the rebel candidates for “going against party decisions”. However, the expulsion has made them more desperate for win, report our district correspondents, quoting some of the rebels.

Many of them have brought allegations of nepotism and irregularities against district unit leaders in picking the party candidates.

In some UPs, BNP-nominated candidates fear that the AL leaders and activists would occupy polling stations, stuff ballot boxes, drive their agents out of polling centres and attack their supporters during the voting.

In the first phase of the polls on March 22, clashes between rival chairman candidates took place in some unions, killing around two dozen people and wounding several hundred others. Also, the voting was largely marred by electoral irregularities and ballot-stuffing.

At that time, violence was reported from the unions of the southern districts -- Satkhira, Barisal, Bhola, Pirojpur, Patuakhali, Cox's Bazar and Jhalakathi.

Several other unions in Cox's Bazar, Patuakhali, Bhola and Barisal go to the polls today.

Out of 725 UPs that went to the polls last week, candidates nominated by the AL won in 540 unions, the BNP in 47 unions, and the Jatiya Party in four unions while independent candidates and other parties sealed victory in the remaining unions.

The ongoing UP polls have generated much heat in the political landscape as both the AL and its arch-foe BNP have stepped in the battle of ballots.

The parties have picked their grassroots leaders to compete for chairman posts with their party's electoral symbols -- “boat” and “sheaf of paddy”.

In the first phase, the EC suspended voting at 65 polling stations for violence and irregularities. The next day, it asked presiding officers of the centres to file cases against the culprits.

On March 16, the EC asked all the superintendents of police (SPs) and the Returning Officers (ROs) to file cases against those who violated the electoral rules.

EC officials yesterday could not say how many cases had been filed.

Several dozens of complaints of irregularities have been submitted to the commission, which still remain pending.

The EC has also issued directives to the police and the ROs to take action against anyone involved in committing violence and irregularities during the polls last week.

Apparently, the EC does not monitor the progress of their implementation, said EC officials, wishing not to be named.

At a press conference in the city on March 28, Shushashoner Jannoy Nagorik (Shujan) alleged that although the EC repeatedly said it took sufficient steps to ensure free and fair polls and curb violence, there was hardly anything visible.

Shujan is a civil society organisation that works for good governance in Bangladesh.

Talking to The Daily Star, Tofail Ahmed, an eminent local government expert, said the incidents of irregularities in the first phase reflected the deterioration of the electoral system in Bangladesh.

“It cannot be changed overnight…So, I think there will be no change in terms of irregularities in the second phase," he said.

Elections to around 621 UPs will be held on April 23 in the third phase and 743 UPs on May 7 in the fourth phase. Some 1,400 more UPs will go to the polls in two other phases till June.