Gaibandha-5 by-polls: Forced to write down election was free, fair
A number of presiding officers have alleged that they were forced by ruling Awami League men to make written statements that Wednesday's voting in Gaibandha-5 by-polls was free and fair.
Some also claimed that local AL leaders and activists compelled them to write in the statements the figure of the total votes cast.
The Election Commission suspended the by-polls as the situation "went out of control" amid various irregularities.
At a press conference on Thursday, the EC held the local administration and presiding officers responsible for the irregularities.
Md Moshiur Rahman, presiding officer of the Mathorpara Dakhil Madrasa polling station in Saghata upazila, said voting was suspended at the certre around 1:00pm because of the unlawful entry of AL men into secret booths.
He said when he was preparing to return to the Shaghata upazila complex, used as the office of the upazila election officer, some 200-300 locals barred him from leaving the polling station and demanded he declare the polls results.
"They started pressing me to write a statement that the election was held in a peaceful manner. I had no other option but to comply," he told The Daily Star yesterday.
Asked whether he sought support from the law enforcers, Moshiur said, "There were only four police personnel at the polling station and it was not possible for them to hold off such a big crowd. So, I called the on-duty executive magistrate."
The presiding officer said the magistrate asked him to call the patrol team of law enforcers. "Later, four policemen from the patrol team came in, but the number was still not enough to tackle the situation."
Executive Magistrate Roksana Begum, also the UNO of Sadullapur upazila, told The Daily Star that the presiding officer called her after the polling was halted at his centre. "As I was busy with duties at another polling station, I asked him to call the patrol team."
At least four out of 16 presiding officers contacted by this newspaper claimed that they were forced by the local AL men and polling agents of the ruling party candidate to make written statements that the polls were free and fair.
Md Abdul Latif, presiding officer of the polling centre at Jadurtair Government Primary School and Jadurtair High School, said around 15-16 youths forced him to write a statement that the voting was free and fair.
"After the Election Commission suspended voting, we started preparing to return to the upazila parishad with polling materials. All of a sudden, 15-16 local youths surrounded the polling officials and started pressing me to announce the election results. I sought assistance from the police and Ansar members, but in vain. That's why I had to write that the voting atmosphere was good. I also mentioned the number of votes cast."
Another Presiding Officer Md Mahmudul Hasan said he learnt around 3:20pm that the voting was suspended, but he could not leave the centre as the polling agents of the AL candidate demanded announcement of the election results.
"Therefore, I had to write a statement and hand it over to them before leaving the centre."
Milon Kumar Pal, presiding officer of Noshirarpara Government Primary School polling station, also had to submit a similar statement to the Saghata UNO office.
He said when he returned all voting materials to the UNO office around 7:30pm, the UNO asked him to write a statement mentioning the number of votes cast. "I was also asked to write that no unlawful incidents occurred at my polling station."
Asked why he signed the statement, Milon said, "The UNO sir asked me to do so to avoid any administrative problems in future and I complied."
Bishnu Pad Singha, presiding officer of the Barkona Government Primary School and Barkona High School polling station, said when he returned to Saghata UNO office around 6:30pm, he came to know that over 50 presiding officers submitted written statements mentioning that the voting was free and fair. The total number of votes cast in their respective polling stations were also mentioned in those statements.
This newspaper could not reach Saghata UNO Sardar Mostafa Shahin for comments as he didn't respond to calls and text messages.
The Daily Star also tried to contact Gaibandha Deputy Commissioner Md Waliur Rahman and Superintendent of Police Touhidul Islam for comments, but none of them picked up phone.
Kamrul Islam, assistant returning officer of Gaibandha-5 by-polls, said presiding officers submit results sheets and vouchers on the returned election materials to the EC.
He said presiding officers are not supposed to write any statement on the election atmosphere and there is no legal basis for such statements.