By-polls irregularities: EC probe finds 100 involved

They include election officials, says committee member; report submission today
electoral irregularities

The Election Commission's probe committee has found that around 100 people, including election officials, were involved in electoral irregularities during the Gaibandha-5 by-polls on October 12.

A committee member said almost all the 100 carried out duties as presiding officers, assistant presiding officers or polling agents appointed by party candidates.

The member said the probe report is almost complete.

The EC formed the committee on October 13 to find out how the irregularities took place and identify those responsible. The irregularities led to postponement of the by-polls.

Asked about the report, probe committee chief Ashok Kumar Debnath, also an additional secretary at the EC secretariat, refused to make any comment.

"We are working on the report and will submit it to the Election Commission on Thursday [today]," he said.

The committee was given seven working days to submit its report. The deadline was later extended by three working days, which expires today.

In an unprecedented move, the EC stopped the Gaibandha-5 by-election, saying that the situation went "out of control" due to widespread electoral irregularities.

This was the first by-polls conducted by the current EC. Also, this was the first time an EC halted an entire by-election to a parliamentary seat.

The probe body recorded statements of over 600 people, including the deputy commissioner and superintendent of police of Gaibandha, presiding officers, assistant presiding officers and polling agents of 51 polling centers where voting was halted.

It also recorded statements of all five candidates in the by-polls.

A member of the probe body said they would not recommend any punishment for officials found involved in irregularities.

"The Election Commission will decide their punishments if it finds them to be guilty," said EC officials.

Some polling officials told the probe committee that law enforcers and magistrates did not cooperate with them enough to stop the election irregularities.

"I told the probe body that some irregularities took place at my polling centre," said Samsuzzoha, presiding officer at Saghata Government Primary School polling station.

He said he tried to prevent the wrongdoers from committing irregularities, but in vain. "Later, I sought cooperation from police, but the law enforcers showed reluctance to drive them out of the polling station."

Seeking anonymity, another presiding officer said, "Some polling agents of the ruling Awami League candidate entered the polling booths and cast fake votes.

"I asked police and magistrates for help, but they did nothing," he said.

After giving his statement to the probe committee on October 20, Gaibandha DC Waliur Rahaman said, "We visited some places and saw that the election was peaceful, free and fair."

Gaibandha SP Touhidul Islam said he visited many polling centres and talked with many and didn't notice any electoral anomalies.

If any election official is found involved in irregularities, actions would be taken against them considering the gravity of the offence, Election Commissioner Md Alamgir said earlier this week.

"The number of the people involved is not an issue. It's about whether they committed an offence or not. We have all evidence and there are videos also," he added.

Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal and other commissioners, while monitoring CCTV footage at the EC office on October 12, found illegal presence of some people in secret polling booths, who were influencing voters.

Before halting the entire election around 2:30pm, the EC suspended polls at 50 out of 145 polling centres. In the meantime, the returning officer suspended voting at another polling centre.

Speaking to the media on October 13, EC officials held the local administration and presiding officers responsible for the polling irregularities.

The commission pointed finger at them for failing to maintain discipline at the polling stations.

Habibul said, "[Election Commissioner] Rashida Sultana talked to the SP, the DC and the returning officer [on the polling day]. We requested them to ensure enforcement of law to make it a nice election."

The situation didn't improve though, he added.