Abul Barek looked hopeless as he was sitting outside a booth at Islamia College centre in Rajshahi city.
“Ballot papers for mayoral candidates ran short,” Barek said, adding, “They asked me to vote for councillors only and I refused. I'm waiting here for ballot papers.” Barek ultimately could not cast his vote.
Two polling officers were sitting idle inside the booth as voters were refusing to vote without the ballot papers for mayoral candidates.
Another voter, Prof Mainul Alam of Agriculture faculty of Rajshahi University, could not vote either. “They gave me two ballot papers instead of three for mayor, general councillor and woman councillor,” said Prof Mainul.
“I am going home without voting,” he said.
Hearing similar allegations since 11:00am yesterday, BNP's mayoral candidate Mosaddek Hossain Bulbul rushed to the vote centre around 12:00pm and blamed the presiding officer and law enforcers for stuffing ballot boxes before the voting began.
Law enforcers did not allow The Daily Star to speak to the presiding officer.
In a video footage, presiding officer Abdullahil Shafi was heard denying the allegations. He told other journalists, “We didn't run short of ballot papers, nor were the ballot boxes stuffed illegally. I am reissuing ballot papers to the booths.”
Meanwhile, BNP's Bulbul staged a sit-in at the college ground and said he refrained from casting his own vote as a protest against the “state-sponsored irregularities”.
“My vote has no value," he said.
He alleged that vote centres were occupied, BNP's polling agents were driven away, and there's a shortage of ballot papers. “Where will I complain? It's better that I sit here to protest,” Bulbul said.
He sat on the grass in rain for four hours until voting ended at 4:00pm.
The Daily Star correspondents visited at least 24 vote centres where the presiding officers claimed that 50 percent of votes were cast by 11:30am. The correspondents found absence of polling agents of mayoral candidates other than Awami League's and some councillor candidates at three out of the 24 centres.
The correspondents could not enter four voting centres as law enforcers denied access. At five centres, the correspondents had to take the help of assistant returning officers to enter.
At Rajshahi Polytechnic Institute, police and presiding officers refused to allow the correspondents inside the voting centre. Later, Assistant Returning Officer (ARO) Shahidul Islam took them to different booths.
At one booth, the correspondents spotted an AL worker, Rashed, who said he was helping the “physically unwell” voters cast their votes. When the ARO was asked how he was allowed to do that, the official drove him out of the centre.
In another booth at the centre, an outsider along with officials fled at the sight of the correspondents.
The road to Chhoto Bongram Government Primary School centre was almost inaccessible for one hour till 11:00am due to crowds. Most of the people in the crowd were seen wearing badges with boat symbol. They were shouting slogans, asking to vote for boat.
A few Rab members were, however, seen dispersing the crowd while The Daily Star was broadcasting live from the spot.
At Seroil Colony High School, around 200 female voters gathered in queues around 6:30am, half an hour before the voting began.
Seuli Ara, who was wearing a boat badge, said she brought several voters as per instruction. “We wanted to cast our votes early."
In the evening, at a press conference at the city AL office, AHM Khairuzzaman Liton said such a peaceful election is unprecedented. He said BNP spread lies and protested the election with an aim to taint it.
When contacted, independent candidate Murad Morshed said the election has become “questionable in many ways”.
Morshed, also the district coordinator of Gana Samhati Andolon, said the situation around the voting centres was “terrifying” for voters as AL men were crowding the venues and shouting slogans.
Around 10:00am, BNP candidate Bulbul rushed to two voting centres at Seroil Government Boys' High School where 17 of his poling agents were allegedly forced out by police.
During visits to those centres, all 17 polling agents of BNP said they reached the venues at 6:30am, but the law enforcers forced them out and they could not enter the centres before 11:00am.
The presiding officers at the centres denied the allegations, saying that the BNP polling agents appeared at the centres late.
“Their allegations are false,” said an assistant commissioner of police, Shamim, who was visiting the centres.