Sylhet, a city known to be a place of religious and political harmony, turned turbulent yesterday as citizens came to polling station to elect a mayor and ward councillors.
What should have been a festive atmosphere was marred by several incidents of ballot-snatching, taking control of polling booths and pushing agents out, clashes, assault on journalists as observed in some centres in the city.
Three correspondents and a photojournalist of The Daily Star, assigned to cover the city corporation election, visited 52 centres of which such incidents were seen in 12.
Nothing significant was seen at the polling centres in the first two hours of voting, except for notable presence of female voters.
But around 10am, two separate incidents of taking control over three centres of two venues were observed.
Awami League candidate Badar Uddin Ahmed Kamran, along with some AL and BCL activists allegedly took over two centres at Khasdabir Govt Primary School venue of ward 5 at around 10am.
Soyful Alam Chowdhury and Md. Bablur Rashid, presiding officers of the centres at the venue said chaos ensued when the AL candidate entered the venue with a large group of supporters.
Rasel Miah, a polling agent of BNP said that all the agents were pushed out from three polling booths, while Kamran entered one and others entered into two.
Soyful Alam Chowdhury said some 50 percent votes of the first lot of ballots (100 pieces ballot) were cast before the AL candidate entered.
Kamran and his group left the centre after ten minutes, but in that time all the other ballots were cast.
“After the chaotic situation, all remaining ballots of the three booths were finished and we had to stop polling for 50 minutes,” he said.
At the same time, police temporarily detained four people at Sylhet Railway Government Primary School centre of ward 26 for snatching ballots, Harun-or-Rashid, inspector and duty officer of the centres said.
The Daily Star correspondents found flocks of supporters of AL candidate Kamran in and out of most of the centres.
Another curious incident was seen at the Kazi Jalal Uddin Multilateral Girls High School centres of ward 18 at around 11:15am. A group of miscreants entered the venue chanting “boat” (electoral symbol of AL). After they left, these correspondents found a lot of ballots ripped off on the floor, with all of them were sealed to “paddy sheaf” (electoral symbol of BNP mayoral candidate Ariful Haque Chowdhury).
Polling stopped for some time and then restarted after police took control over the centre by firing blank shots, Jahid Uddin, executive magistrate of EC said.
Another chaotic spot was three centres of Shahjalal Jamea Islamia Kamil Madrasha of ward 8. Starting at around 11:30am, two groups of AL-BCL activists in support of two rival councillor candidates entered the centres and locked into clash that closed voting for around 20 minutes.
Later, when the polling started again, another group entered a polling booth and started stuffing ballots for “boat”, before police drove them off the venue.
Jamil Ahmed, presiding officer of one of the centres, however claimed everything was fine at his centre and something might be wrong in the other centres, but The Daily Star could not talk to the other presiding officers.
At two centres of Nabin Chandra Govt Primary School of ward 20, voting was stopped for half an hour from 11:45am, as a group of miscreants forcefully entered the centres, forced all agents out and cast fake votes, Firoz Al Mamun, presiding officer of a centre said.
While visiting Habinandi Government Primary School, a cancelled centre of ward 27, a voter was seen standing in front of the room of presiding officer.
Khaled Chowdhury, a lawyer by profession, said “Some people cast a lot of votes by taking control of the centre; I am waiting to see whether they cast my vote or not”.
A group of AL badge-holding activists entered and took over the Amberkhana Dargah Gate Govt Primary School centre of ward 17, at around 2pm. BNP polling agents on duty alleged that Misbah Uddin Siraj, organising secretary, and Shafiqur Rahman Chowdhury, general secretary of Sylhet district AL were present in the centre while AL activists forced all polling agents out.
At the centre, Mesbah Uddin, a journalist of Bangla daily Prothom Alo was severely beaten up by police and AL supporters for taking photos of the scenario.
Mahfuz-uz-Zaman, presiding officer of the centre said, “I don't know whether I am in charge of the polling centre or in charge of clashes!”
Voting at two centres of the city was cancelled, as miscreants snatched ballots, stuffed boxes and caused chaos.
The centres are Gazi Burhan Uddin Government Primary School of ward 24, and Habinandi Government Primary School of ward 27, Proloy Kumar Saha, assistant returning officer said.