Bhola-3 by-polls today amid high tension | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 24, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, April 24, 2010

Bhola-3 by-polls today amid high tension

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All eyes are on Bhola-3 constituency that goes to poll today amid high tension and tight security, generating much heat in the country's politics since the by-election appears to be a crucial test for the Election Commission as well as the Awami League and BNP.
Over 2.34 lakh electorates in the constituency are entitled to exercise their franchise, in the duel between the AL and BNP again after December 29, 2008 parliamentary election.
Both the camps are desperate to win the poll and bank on it the coming days' domestic politics, putting the EC on a tight rope to maintain its credibility by holding the election in a free and fair manner.
The BNP high command plans to wage a wave of anti-government agitations, whatever the result, in the wake of serious crises of power, water and gas and soaring prices of essentials.
BNP policymakers say if their candidate comes out victorious, it will prove that the government is losing popularity for its failure to run the country properly. In case of his defeat, the party will reject the result on grounds of rigging, if there is any anomaly.
The BNP has already declared that it will launch a movement against the government just as the incumbent ruling AL did after the controversial Magura by-election during the rule of BNP in 1994.
On the other hand, by defeating its rival candidate in the constituency the AL wants to prove its popularity as reflected in the ninth parliamentary elections is still intact.
Given the magnitude of the Bhola-3 by-poll, the EC took some innovative measures, including use of video cameras, deployment of "silent observers", setting up check posts at launch and bus terminals to prevent outsiders from entering the constituency, to ensure a credible election.
Election officials have videoed the two rival candidates' campaign events since Monday as each of them complained that their activists had been attacked by the other's supporters.
Twelve more video cameras will be put to use today to record the poll to detect individuals responsible for any irregularities.
This is the first time that the EC has decided to use video cameras in an election.
In the wake of clashes between AL and BNP activists centring poll campaigns, the EC has expressed a tough stance on the by-poll, even warned of cancelling election results, if the election does not satisfy the commission as regards its fairness.
It also took some unusual decisions regarding appointment of polling officials, appointing the Dinajpur district election officer the returning officer for Bhola-3 by-election and recruiting 86 presiding officers from outside of the constituency to ensure their neutrality.
Following objections from both the candidates, around 80 out of 547 assistant presiding officers were also replaced with officials from outside the constituency.
EC officials said immediately after announcing the poll schedule, the commission transferred the UNOs and officers-in-charge of Lalmohan and Tajumuddin upazilas that constitute the Bhola-3 constituency.
The superintendent of police of Bhola and four sub-inspectors and two assistant sub-inspectors of police of the two upazilas were also transferred last week for the sake of a free and fair election, the EC officials added.
No outsiders, even lawmakers and central leaders of political parties, were allowed to stay in Bhola-3 constituency area after Thursday night, the last day of electoral campaign.
The EC has deployed at least three dozen its own officials to monitor the poll as "silent observers" on the polling day. On receiving information from them, it will take instant action regarding any anomalies, EC officials said.
A number of local and international organisations have taken permission and cards from the EC Secretariat to observe the polls, EC officials said.
Since the announcement of the poll schedule, the EC has been keeping constant watch on developments in the constituency as many political analysts believe the battle of ballots will determine to some extent the current EC's future.
Chief Election Commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda and election commissioners Muhammed Soul Hussein and Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hossain visited the area to motivate election officials and law enforcement agencies to ensure an atmosphere conducive to holding a free and fair election.
After restoration of parliamentary democracy in 1991, all successive ECs were mired into controversy for their failure to function independently during the rules of political governments. The EC top brass were even forced to resign before ending their tenure.
The BNP has already accused the EC of acting like "an agent of the government" to ensure the ruling party candidate's victory in the by-poll and warned of waging a movement against it if the poll is not held in a free and fair manner.
The constituency fell vacant when the EC on February 3 published a gazette notification vacating AL lawmaker Maj (retd) Jasim Uddin's membership in parliament following a Supreme Court verdict, which declared him disqualified for contesting the December 29 polls.
The battle here is between senior politician Maj (retd) Hafizuddin Ahmed of BNP, who was elected MP six times, and AL candidate Nurunnabi Chowdhury, who is standing for the first time.
The main opposition BNP has repeatedly demanded deployment of army in Bhola-3 to maintain law and order and talked with the EC regarding this several times in the last few days.
The EC, however, did not agree with it but assured the party leaders of a foolproof security for voters by deploying adequate members of Rab, police and other law enforcement agencies.
As part of the security measures, over 300 members of Rab were deployed at each union under the electoral area alongside police and ansars. Besides, 21 mobile and four strike forces will be patrolling the area to avert untoward incidents until April 29, EC officials said.
Four judicial magistrates running mobile courts will hold trials of electoral offences summarily. Another 33 executive magistrates were deployed to assist the mobile teams and strike forces.
EC officials said 52 of the total 86 polling stations were identified as vulnerable and extra security measures were taken to this end. A total of 24 members of police and ansars were deployed for each poling station while each of the 52 vulnerable centres got five more.
The officials said members of coast guard were asked to assist law enforcers in Char Zahiruddin area.
Meanwhile, both the Awami League and BNP yesterday continued blaming each other over today's by-election.
The BNP alleged that the Election Commission under government influence is set to hold a farcical election with a pre-determined result while the AL alleged that BNP's prime objective is to create an issue for launching a movement, not a fair election.
BNP Secretary General Khandaker Delwar Hossain told journalists at the party's central office at Naya Paltan that the ruling party wants to prove its popularity by rigging the by-poll.
He said if the government has the courage, it must prove its popularity by holding a free and fair election.
At another press briefing at AL chief's political office in Dhanmondi, AL Joint General Secretary Mahabubul Alam Hanif alleged that anticipating certain defeat in the poll the BNP is trying to create an issue to hinder the trial of 1971 war criminals.
The AL would face any issue politically, he added.


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