Independent candidates bagged almost one third of the chairman posts fighting against the Awami League nominees in the first three phases of upazila parishad elections beginning on March 10.
The Election Commission data shows that independent candidates won 99 chairman posts as results of 315 upazilas were available till yesterday.
AL candidates won 213 chairman posts and 69 of them were elected unopposed. The Jatiya Party secured the rest three.
Elections in 323 upazilas were held in three phases on March 10, 18 and 24 respectively. Results of eight upazilas of Rangamati district, held under the second phase, were not available till yesterday.
This was the first time in Bangladesh's history that political parties nominated candidates for chairman, vice-chairman and female vice-chairman posts of upazila parishads.
“Independent candidates are posing a challenge to Awami League nominees as many registered political parties are not participating in the election,” Election Commissioner Rafiqul Islam told The Daily Star.
“The parties that are not contesting the local government election might have extended support to the independent candidates,” he said.
“Many of these independent candidates who won are Awami League rebels. This shows that many deserving aspirants did not get the party ticket” said election watchdog Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik Secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar.
He added that many AL lawmakers are working in favour of rebel candidates as they are their relatives and cronies, which could be another reason behind the win of so many independent candidates.
EC officials said not less than 80 percent of the independent candidates who won in the election are rebel candidates from the ruling AL.
This year, elections in 480 upazilas are taking place in five phases. Election in 122 upazilas will be held on March 31 and the EC is yet to announce the schedule for the fifth. There are 492 upazilas in the country.
Besides the BNP, Left Democratic Alliance, a combine of eight left-leaning parties; Islami Andolan Bangladesh; Bangladesh Khelafat Andolan and Bangladesh Muslim League boycotted the election.
They said they boycotted the polls as they did not see any prospect of a free and fair election.
The EC has prepared the result sheets of chairman elections, held in 79 upazilas on March 10, 114 upazilas on March 18 and 122 upazilas on March 24.
In all the three phases, voters appeared to be hardly interested to go to polling stations with overall turnout lowest since 2009.
In the elections, at least 27 upazilas saw less than 30 percent voter turnout, said EC officials.
The voter turnout in the 2009 upazila polls was 70.57 percent, it fell to 61.23 percent in 2014 and 43.31 percent in the first phase of this upazila election and 41.25 percent in the second phase. The turnout stood at 41.41 percent in the third phase.
Badiul Alam Majumdar has expressed doubts on the EC's voter turnout figures for this year's elections.
“We have seen evidence of voter-less elections as no voter came to vote,” he said.
“Voters are disinterested because they were not sure whether casting of their votes will make any difference,” he said, adding that voters feared they would not be able to cast votes even if they did turn up at the centres.
Election Commission sources said only 8.63 percent voters cast vote in the Dakhhin Surma election in Sylhet and 9.38 percent voted in Jaintapur election in the same district in the first two phases.
Less than 30 percent cast vote in Kushtia Sadar; Kishoreganj Sadar and the district's Pakundia; Shahrasti of Chandpur, Laxmipur Sadar and Ramgati of the district, Boalkhali and Chandnaish of Chattogram, and Bashkhali of Cox's Bazar in the third phase.
“The commission does not bother about voter turnout in the elections,” Election Commission Secretary Helal Uddin Ahmed said on Sunday.
It is not a matter of concern for the EC how many voters cast ballots in the polls. The commission rather cares whether the voting was peaceful or not.
“A quarter, which is not participating in the election, is running a campaign asking voters not to go to the polling stations,” he added.