Gaibandha by-election: Irregularities well-orchestrated
"It has become clear from this incident that irregularities in elections have become a usual matter. If that's true, it seems we don't need any election."
The Election Commission recommended punishment for 134 officials involved in Gaibandha-5 by-polls after its probe found their involvement in irregularities and negligence in performing duties.
They include the returning officer for the October 12 by-election; 125 local government and presiding officers, including teachers and bankers; an executive magistrate; and an additional deputy commissioner.
The commission, however, did not recommend any action against the Gaibandha deputy commissioner and superintendent of police as the probe did not find their involvement in the irregularities, according to Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal.
The EC in its probe found that irregularities took place at 125 polling centres out of the total 145. Besides, the committee could not comment on the situation at 16 centres as CCTV footage there was not available. No irregularities took place at four polling stations, it added.
The EC in its review said voting irregularities took place in almost all polling stations. "It was done in a coordinated and well-planned way and many were involved in the planning," it added.
In a move not seen in recent times, the EC stopped the Gaibandha-5 by-polls, saying the situation went "out of control" due to widespread irregularities.
The CEC and other commissioners, while monitoring the CCTV footage at the EC office on October 12, found some people illegally present in the polling booths and influencing voters.
ACTIONS AND REASONS
At a press conference at his Dhaka office yesterday, CEC Awal said the EC secretariat will take departmental action against the EC's Rajshahi Regional Election Officer Saiful Islam, also the returning officer for the by-polls, for negligence of duties within a month, in line with the Election Officials (Special Provision) Act, 1991.
The EC also recommended relevant offices to take action against 125 presiding officers (PO).
The EC officials said the POs of these centres have grossly neglected their duties, and there was no atmosphere for fair voting inside the polling booths. They did not even take any initiative to restore the proper voting atmosphere.
The CEC at the press conference said they recommended that the authorities concerned take action against Gobaindganj Police Station sub-inspectors Tarun Kumar, Abdullah Al Mamun and Anisur Rahman, Sadullahpur Police Station SI Kanak Ranjan Barman and Panchagar's Atoaari Police Station ASI Dulal Hossain for misconduct and negligence.
According to the EC officials, these police officials did not take any action against irregularities, despite the request of the POs. Rather, the law enforcers asked the polls officials to look the other way.
The commission also suggested taking action against Saiful Islam, PO of polling centre-94, as he, amid the ongoing investigation, took part in a live programme and said the election was free and fair.
The EC recommended action against Gaibandha ADC (general) Sushanta Kumar Mahato, as he forced the PO to write a statement saying the election was free and fair.
The commission also blacklisted all the polling agents appointed by candidates from discharging similar duties in the next election.
Asked about what actions have been taken against the DC and the SP of Gaibandha, the CEC said the probe committee did not find their involvement in irregularities.
It should be mentioned that the CEC on October 13, a day after the by-polls, said he spoke with the SP and the DC on the election day and asked them to enforce law and order to make it a "beautiful election".
The CEC also said they did not find involvement of any candidate in irregularities.
Awal said they would announce the re-election date next week.
PROBE AND EC REVIEW
The EC formed the probe committee on October 13 to find out how the irregularities took place at 51 polling centres where they stopped the election on the polling day.
Later, the EC asked the committee to investigate whether irregularities took place at all the polling stations.
Gaibandha by-election was the first by-polls under the current EC.
The EC officials said the probe committee found evidence of various irregularities. It found the polling agents and unauthorised persons cast votes instead of actual voters.
In many cases, voters were forced by polling agents to cast votes for a specific symbol. Unauthorised persons also entered the polling stations and took control of the centres.
The EC in its review said similar irregularities took place in almost all the polling centres and they were done in a well-planned way.
Besides, it is not clear why Gaibandha police intelligence was unable to know about the planning or give the information to the authorities concerned, including the returning officer.
"However, during the investigation, all the polling agents or officials stated they committed this injustice voluntarily. It can be assumed from their statements that if they divulge the identities of those behind such wrongful acts, their life could be in jeopardy."
The EC also said many think that such irregularities during the election have become a norm in the country. Therefore, during the investigation in Saghata upazila, when the agents were shown the video footage of centre-72, all of them unanimously said, "If you consider it a crime, then it is; otherwise, it's not."
The EC report read, "It has become clear from this incident that irregularities in elections have become a usual matter. If that's true, it seems we don't need any election.
"… the commission has been able to guess on whose order they [agents and officials] committed such wrongdoings. But it cannot take legal actions against the planners as their names were not mentioned by the agents and officials."