Vol. 5 Num 11 Mon. June 07, 2004  
Front Page

Mahi sweeps back to parliament

Bikalpa Dhara candidate Mahi B Chowdhury swept back to parliament from Munshiganj-1 constituency yesterday in a by-election overshadowed by allegations of rigging by his four-party alliance rival.

Mahi polled 76,598 votes to defeat his nearest rival Momin Ali of the key ruling party BNP by 46,182 votes in the polls, the third in less than three years for the seat that sent his father Badruddoza Chowdhury and him to parliament since October 2001.

In terms of percentage points, Mahi fetched 71.58 percent and Momin 28.42 percent -- 30, 516 -- of the 1,07014 votes cast, according to the final unofficial result of Election Commission Secretariat. The turnout was low at 45.63 percent against a total of 2,34,491voters.

Former president Badruddoza, who recently founded the Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh after quitting the presidency in the face of impeachment threats in 2002, termed the victory a symbolic protest of people against the BNP-Jamaat-led coalition's misrule.

Local residents alleged the supporters of Momin took control of a number of polling centres in Kolapara union of Srinagar, close to his house and cast false ballots freely in the presence of polling and law enforcement officials.

No polling agents of Mahi and two independent candidates vying for the seat were allowed in Kolapara.

Most of the centres were near-deserted after 11:30am, partly due to incessant rain from 1:30pm to 3:00pm.

The alliance adherents drove away Bikalpa Dhara polling agents and intimidated Hindus from casting votes in many centres including Dayarhat Primary School, Srinagar Upazila Auditorium and Madhya Hashara Government Primary School centres.

At Dayarhat, BNP men beat up an 80-year-old man for commenting against them to a private TV channel.

At Shamsabad, BNP supporters and police chased Bikalpa Dhara supporters out of the polling centre.

Bikalpa Dhara chief Badruddoza and Member Secretary Abdul Mannan lodged a written complaint with the assistant returning officer and upazila nirbahi officer, alleging massive rigging at Dayarhata, Samsabad, Kabutarkhola and Kolapara high school centres.

But the assistant returning officer brushed aside the allegations.

At 12:30pm, BNP candidate Momin Ali said the polls were being held peacefully and termed the Bikalpa Dhara allegations of rigging as 'totally baseless'.

The Daily Star correspondents saw the supporters of the BNP candidate cast false votes at Kolapara primary and high school centres between 1:00pm and 1:30pm after capturing them.

A law-enforcer on duty at the primary school said BNP men were casting fake votes since morning, but they were helpless to act.

After journalists reached the centre, some Ansars detained three people and one of them called out to journalists: "Sir, they came here to cast vote for the fifth time."

The scene of Kolapara high school was mostly the same, where BNP men in the polling booths asked people to cast vote for sheaf of paddy, the election symbol of the party.

Presiding Officer Mujibur Rahman Talukder denied any rigging. When journalists asked about the absence of polling agents of Bikalpa Dhara candidate, he said: "They did not turn out."

BNP men beat up Gazi Shahidul Haq, a former local leader of the BNP who joined the Bikalpa Dhara later, when he reached Shamsabad government primary school in the morning and forced him and co-activists to leave the centre.

On hearing the news, Mahi rushed to the scene and sought intervention of the presiding officer.

"I have nothing to do," the polls official replied.

Until 11.30am, only 976 votes out of about 4,500, were cast at Bhagyakul Harendra Lal High School centre, where people largely from the minority Hindu community vote. Local residents on Saturday said the supporters of the BNP threatened them not to vote.

Local residents said polls at 30 centres of Serajdikhan and other centres were peaceful.

Ruling BNP lawmaker Abdul Hye acted as a polling agent of Momin at Kali Kishore High School in Hashara union until noon.

Jahangir Alam Nishi, one of the independent candidates, alleged law-enforcers barred him from entering the polling booth there.

The authorities deployed two companies of army men, paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) and police in force to ensure peace in the constituency comprising Srinagar and part of Serajdikhan.

Election watchers and human rights organisations alleged rigging in the by-election.

Odhikhar, a coalition for human rights organisations, in a press release yesterday said a large number of fake votes were cast in the by-election.

It said its volunteers visited 11 of 89 centres and found low turnouts there.

Brotee, a local election monitoring group, said polls were characterised by intimidation of the minority community, low turnout, partisan role of the administration and expulsion of opposition candidates' polling agents from booths.

Munshiganj-1 and Dhaka-10 seats fell vacant when Mahi and retired army major MA Mannan resigned from parliament and the BNP to join the Bikalpa Dhara on March 10.

Mahi's victory in the prestige fight between the Bikalpa Dhara and the BNP yesterday heralded the triumph of the Chowdhury family from its borough that sent his grandfather the late Kafiluddin Chowdhury, communications and public workers minister of the Jukta Front government, and father Badruddoza to parliament several times.

Mahi, a graduate in political science from California University at Santa Clara in the United States, took to active politics following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather in 1992 when he joined the BNP.

He was elected parliamentarian on the BNP platform in 2002 after his father became president, quitting parliament.


In his instant reaction after the unofficial results were announced, Mahi said the Bikalpa Dhara has started its victory from the soil of Munshiganj and it would continue across the country. "It's just the beginning."

"It's a verdict against the intolerable misrule and corruption of the BNP-led government," he told journalists.

Momin, who lost comprehensively to Mahi, accused the Bikalpa Dhara men of controlling some polling centers and casting false votes. He also alleged the Bikalpa Dhara men drove his polling agents out of some centers. He however expressed satisfaction at the peaceful holding of the by-election.

Badruddoza termed his son's victory a public verdict against the criminal activities, unbridled corruption and price hike of essentials during the four-party alliance government's rule.

"People of Munshiganj gave the historical verdict against the misdeeds of the government on behalf of the masses of the country."

Bikalpa Dhara supporters and activists were initially sluggish to celebrate the overwhelming victory, as they saw BNP men occupy several polling stations and cast false votes all day long. But when the results from the centres started pouring out putting Mahi ahead of Momin, they started jubilating.

Total votes 234,491
Total cast 107,014
Turn out 45.63%
BDB 76,598
BNP 30,516

Kalligaon Government Primary School looks near-deserted, as the voter turnout was low at the election centre in Srinagar in Munshiganj-1 constituency that went to by-polls yesterday. PHOTO: STAR