AL candidates rule city polls
Awami League (AL) backed candidates seemed to be striding towards clinching mayoral victory in all four city corporation elections in the early hours of today with Badaruddin Ahmed Kamran already unofficially winning the Sylhet mayoral race, and Shawkat Hossain Hiron winning in Barisal.
Meanwhile, AL candidates already came out as victors in eight out of the nine municipalities where elections were held yesterday, while their archrival BNP backed candidates grabbed only one.
Incumbent Mayor of Sylhet City Corporation Badaruddin Ahmed Kamran won the mayoral election there again according to the final unofficial count, beating his rival BNP candidate AFM Kamal by a large margin. He bagged 1,15,446 votes while his rival got 32,097 votes. Kamran is currently in jail accused in several graft cases.
In Barisal, AL candidate Shawkat Hossain Hiron won the mayoral race defeating Progressive Democratic Party's Sharfuddin Ahmed Santu, getting 46,795 votes while Santu bagged 46,208 votes.
Hiron however earlier accused some intelligence agencies and Rapid Action Battalion of 'manoeuvring to engineer the election there to elect a certain person of their choice'.
In Khulna City Corporation, AL backed Talukder Abdul Khaleque was leading with 1,18,829 votes in a close fight against BNP supported candidate Moniruzzaman Moni, who managed to get 99,556 votes in 182 centres out of a total of 239.
AHM Khairuzzaman Liton, who is backed by AL in Rajshahi City Corporation, was leading with 85,930 votes against his nearest rival BNP-Jamaat supported Mosaddek Hossain Bulbul who got 67,010 votes in 117 centres out of a total of 129.
The newly elected municipal mayors are Golam Kibria in Fulbaria of Mymensingh, Anisur Rahman in Sreepur of Gazipur, Reazul Islam Joarder in Chuadanga of Chuadanga district, Nayek Shafiul Alam Shafi in Sitakunda of Chittagong, Zakaria Ahmed Pablu in Golapganj of Sylhet, Abdur Rab Munshi in Shariatpur of Shariatpur district, Ramzan Ali in Manikganj of Manikganj district, and Abdul Gafur in Naohata of Rajshahi. All of them were AL affiliated candidates.
Only Jahangir Alam backed by BNP won in Dhupchachiya municipality of Bogra.
Voting in four city corporations and nine municipalities however ended peacefully with satisfactory turnout of voters yesterday, although widespread confusion over voters' identification numbers had caused a messy start in the morning slowing down the balloting.
A considerable number of voters also had to return home after spending hours in queues without having the chance to exercise their right to franchise because of polling officials' failure to determine many voters' identities despite having voter lists with photographs in their hands.
Although voters in great numbers lined up at all polling stations before voting started, their enthusiasm soon started to sap due to the voter identification chaos, which delayed the whole process of voting that finally dragged on in many places even after the deadline of 4:00pm.
Queues were seen in front of some polling stations in the city corporations of Rajshahi, Barisal, Sylhet and Khulna where voters were still casting their votes more than an hour into the deadline, reported our staff correspondents.
No major incident of violence was however reported, and the contestants, especially the mayoral aspirants, expressed their satisfaction regarding the overall voting atmosphere saying the polls were 'more or less' free and fair, except the lone incident in Barisal.
Law enforcers however arrested some people on charges of violating electoral rules by doling out money among voters.
The first elections under the military backed caretaker administration started at 8:00am amid heavy security with the Emergency Power Rules fully restored.
Some 1,600 contestants were in the ballot race seeking votes from a total of 13.66 lakh voters.
In the city corporations 46 were vying for four mayoral posts, 752 were contesting for 118 councillorships, and 194 were seeking votes for 39 reserved councilors' seats for women.
Fifty nine were competing for mayoral posts, 429 for 81 councillorships, and 120 for 27 reserved seats for women in Naohata, Dupchanchia, Chuadanga, Sreepur, Manikganj, Fulbaria, Shariatpur, Golapganj and Sitakunda municipalities.
Chaos reigned at every polling station immediately after voting started because of the confusion over voter registration numbers and national identity card numbers.
Voters who carried with them their national ID cards for voting and the ones who did not carry any card or number with them, both groups faced unexpected hassles in casting their votes, many of whom finally gave up and returned home disgruntled without casting their votes.
Those who brought the national ID cards, their numbers did not match the voters' numbers on the list in the hands of the polling officials, and they were barred from entering the polling booths until they were able to produce voter registration numbers which matched the numbers on the list.
Some of them actually traveled back home and returned with their voter registration numbers and finally cast their votes, while some others, especially women, did not bother and left without voting.
Some others managed to find their registration numbers from the lists hanging outside the polling stations, spending additional hours in yet another queue.
The sheer hassle of voting caused frustration among the voters discouraging many of them from casting votes, officials said adding that identifying voters was a problem as many of them showed up without their voter identification numbers with them.
Both voters and polling officials said in the past candidates and their supporters used to help the voters collect their numbers, but this time around the practice was absent due to a new electoral system which slapped numerous restrictions on electioneering, including a very short campaign period.
"We are facing problems in identifying voters as most of them don't know their registration numbers," said Mohammad Rafiqul Islam, presiding officer (PO) of a polling centre in Barisal, adding that the problem was slowing down the voting process.
Voters said there should have been sufficient campaign by the authorities on the voting system prior to the polls for preventing such confusions.
"I didn't vote and am returning home after not being able to find my voter registration number," said Yusuf Ali, a voter at Government Pilot Boys High School in Sylhet. The PO of the centre said providing voters with their registration numbers is not their duty.
Over 5,500 local and international observers monitored yesterdays polls, which is widely considered as a litmus test of the Election Commission's (EC) preparations for the all-important parliamentary election planned for the third week of December. Many observers termed yesterday's polling as free, fair and credible.
The strict electoral rules bar any rally or procession till August 7, meaning the winners will not be able to do much in victory celebrations.
The EC and some advisers to the caretaker administration expressed their satisfaction over the elections to the local governments and the voter turnout, terming those free, fair and neutral.
For the first time in the country's election history, a large projection screen was set up in front of the Khulna office of the Election Commission to provide live update of the poll counts to the public, causing enthusiastic local people to crowd there.