The day started high on hopes for a fair election. But it was not long before the optimism was blatantly doused.
Activists of the pro-ruling Chhatra league by and large occupied polling stations with police and other law enforcement agencies lending them a helping hand.
To cover their tracks, they made sure the journalists' access to the scenes of wrongdoings is restricted.
Take, for instance, the Dhaka College centre. At around 9:00am, about 100 activists of BCL stormed into the near-empty venue.
Vote rigging fiesta at Dhaka College Video
About 100 leaders and activists of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) stormed into Dhaka College centre. Split in separate groups, they entered all the six polling booths around 9:00am and started casting votes at their will.
What was essentially a sedate environment was filled with cacophony. Split in groups, they took control of all the six booths of centre No. 343 and started casting votes at will.
They grabbed the ballot paper books, stamped them with the Hilsa symbol of Sayeed Khokon, the Awami League-backed mayoral candidate for Dhaka City South, and stuffed them into the ballot boxes.
They worked through the books as fast as they could, as if they were on a timed mission.
This went on for about 20 minutes, and the presiding officer, Sujit Kumer Dey, looked helpless. After all, the police personnel were coordinating the BCL men's unlawful activities.
There was no protest from the polling agents either. How could they? All of them were working for the Hilsa symbol.
The police personnel on duty asked this correspondent not to stay at the centre for longer than five minutes.
“There is an order from the high-ups that journalists can stay inside only for five minutes,” a policeman said.
By 9:20am, the BCL men walked out of the polling booths and were on their way to the next centre.
Many voters later told this correspondent that their votes were already cast, while some found their ballot papers completely missing.
At Dhanmondi Government Girls' High School around 12:40pm, a polling agent of Nasrin Begum, a candidate for the reserved seat of ward No. 14, 15 and 18, was seen filling ballot boxes with voting papers in the presence of an assistant presiding officer.
When this correspondent arrived, the door to the polling booth was shut, which is a violation of voting rules. The entry and the exit to polling centres or booths should remain open during the voting hours.
Exclusive footage of vote rigging at Kamalapur (video)
Supporters of Awami League-backed mayoral and councilor candidates stuffed ballot boxes indiscriminately driving out poling agents of BNP-backed candidates from a polling booth at Kamalapur Sher-e Bangla Railway High School Centre-1 today.
As the polling agents were screaming out of the matter, rival candidates and their supporters rushed to the booth no 5, vandalising chairs, a ballot box and set fire to some ballots.
They took two unused ballot books from assistant presiding officer and showed the media that all papers were already sealed in favour of AL-backed councilor candidate.
However, this correspondent was still privy to the goings-on inside the room through the window: a middle-aged person was seen folding the ballot papers and passing them on to another man, who was wearing an identity card of the Kettle symbol, for sticking them into the ballot boxes.
This correspondent also snapped photographs of the whole incident.
The men, upon learning that a journalist was present, opened the door.
It turns out the middle-aged person was the assistant presiding officer of the centre.
Soon, a plainclothes man, identifying himself as a policeman, approached this correspondent and asked him to leave the venue.
When this correspondent sought to speak to the presiding officer, the man removed him from the centre and took him to a policeman named Jamiul and said: “This person is a journalist and he took photographs. What should I do?”
The duo then asked this correspondent to delete whatever photographs he had taken.
Despite having the requisite permits to access the polling centre at all times, police still stopped two correspondents of The Daily Star when they wanted to enter Mirpur Bangla School and College, which was centre No. 145, around 9:30am.
After arguing for a while, they entered but the police did not allow the accompanying photographer in.
Police again intercepted them as they were speaking to the presiding officer, as one of the correspondents was filming the conversation on his mobile phone.
The law enforcers simply ousted the correspondents from the centre. “Our seniors have strictly instructed us not to allow any cameras or filming inside the venue,” he said.
The police personnel, however, failed to show any proof of the instruction when the correspondents asked for one.
One of the correspondents returned to the venue at 2:30pm and saw the polling agent of the Table Clock symbol grabbing a bundle of ballot papers and stamping them in a corner of booth No. 1.
When the correspondent sought to know the number of votes cast until then, the polling officer asked him to come again at 3:15pm.
The correspondent returned at 3:45pm but found the booth empty. “All the votes were cast by 3:15pm,” said Assistant Presiding Officer Golam Faruk.
At about 3:50pm, news floated that a magistrate was calling everyone in at the centre, and all those present, who happened to be just the BCL men and the polling officers, straight away got busy staging the scenes of a typical polling centre. Some became dummy agents and some voters.
At 1:35pm at Kabi Nazrul Govt College, a group of men, all supporters of Khokon, were seen stuffing voting papers into ballot boxes at a booth.
The Daily Star correspondent captured the scene on his mobile phone and the group ran towards him and intimidated him to delete the photos. More people arrived and forced the reporter to erase the photos in front of them.
The presence of voters was sparse at the centre, with agents and supporters of Khokon loitering about.
Voting at three centres at Suritola High School was seen suspended when another correspondent of The Daily Star dropped by at 9:30am due to allegations of rigging.
Outside, people were shouting “vote thieves” after finding out that their votes were already cast.
“I came to cast my vote, but somebody has already done it. What do I do now?” said Aslam, a voter from the area.
At about 11:03am, ten men wearing the Hilsa symbol were seen stuffing ballots into boxes at Kamalapur Sher-e-Bangla Railway High School.
As The Daily Star correspondent attempted to photograph the scene, two of them shouted, “Don't take photos. You will be vanished as soon as you get out of here.”
At the Kamalapur BRTC Bus Depot centre for men, police warned three journalists, including one from this newspaper, not to take mobile phones or cameras inside the venue.
“The Election Commission and our bosses instructed us not to allow journalists with mobile phones and cameras,” said an on-duty policeman, who, however, was not wearing his name tag.
Voters returned without casting votes as police locked the Maniknagar Govt Primary School centre around 12 noon. Its presiding officer, Sohelur Rahman Khan, said there was no atmosphere of voting at the centre.
The Scholastica School centre in Uttara was taken over by local AL leaders and their supporters as early as the first hour of voting.
Airport Thana AL Senior Vice-president Shahjahan Mondal along with his supporters was seen dictating the entire polling process, as the law enforcers played the role of silent onlookers.
Around 11:00am, batons in hand, supporters of the Hilsa symbol chased some voters of their opponent candidate out of Dhaka Nesaria Madrasa centre in Gendaria.
Later, a voter, Pappu, complained that he could not cast his vote as there was no ballot paper.
“I was told that my vote has already been cast,” a woman said as she was coming out of Badda Girls High School at 1:30pm.
At around 2:00pm, five men of the Table Clock symbol were seen hurriedly stamping ballot papers at Shahjadpur Model Govt Primary School.
When the correspondent entered the booth, they told him not to disturb. “We are working here,” one of them said and pushed the reporter out of the room and bolted it.
The correspondent then approached the group of policemen standing right outside the room. They said the election was going on smoothly, as none of the voters raised any complaint.
Its presiding officer, Jahangir Alam, said voting was going on well.
The reporter then moved to the nearby Badda Govt Primary School, where he saw a group of men sticking ballots into the boxes as quickly as possible.
As soon as they saw the correspondent, three of them weighed in and drove him out of the room.
Police locked the main gate of Shahjadpur Nazar Madrasa centre as 60-70 youths of the Table Clock symbol were rigging votes inside.
At that time, a voter carrying his national identity card attempted to enter the centre but he was not allowed. “I have been here three times since morning and was unsuccessful in casting my vote.”
CHITTAGONG CITY CORPORATION
In Chittagong, at least 50 people were denied voting rights as AL men already cast their votes at Patenga Board Government Primary School between 8:00am and 1:00pm, according to The Daily Star correspondents based in the port city.
No voter was seen at Chittagong Shilpakala Academy centre at 2:30pm. A woman agent of AL-backed mayoral candidate was found to stamp ballot papers in presence of an assistant presiding officer.
As two reporters of The Daily Star appeared, she stopped and went back to her seat. The assistant presiding officer was silent.
BCL men threw stones at the Hossain Ahmedpara Government Primary School centre to take control of the venue.
Pro-government activists blasted crackers outside the polling centre at Government Commercial Institute at 10:10am.
Local AL men and outsiders forcibly entered the centre at Udayan Kindergarten at 9:00am and they barred The Daily Star correspondent from taking photographs.
AGENTS USED MOBILES
In a gross violation of electoral rules, the polling agents were seen using their mobile phones at every centre. They were constantly talking to each other and coordinating their activities.
For instance, at Dhaka College, the agents of Hilsa symbol were seen updating one another inside the booth.