Committed to PEOPLE'S RIGHT TO KNOW
Vol. 5 Num 67 Mon. August 02, 2004  
   
Front Page


AL sweeps peaceful Gazipur by-polls


Main opposition Awami League (AL) candidate Zahid Ahsan Russell swept Gazipur-2 parliamentary by-elections yesterday, defeating ruling BNP-led four-party alliance candidate MA Mannan by a huge difference of 47,933 votes.

Russell, elder son of assassinated lawmaker from the seat Ahsanullah Master, polled 1,72,658 or 55.19 percent of the votes against Mannan's 1,24,725 or 39.87 percent in the prestige polls that saw a 57.26 percent turnout, according to unofficial results declared by the returning officer's office.

The election, held in a festive holiday atmosphere, allayed fears of a repeat of the controversial Dhaka-10 by-polls on July 1 won by alliance candidate Mosaddak Ali Falu.

Jatiya Party (Ershad) candidate Kazi Mahmud Hasan trailed the heavyweights with 13,562 ballots in an election that saw 3,12,809 valid votes cast out of a total of 5,46,293.

After boycotting three consecutive by-elections -- Kustia-1, Munshiganj- 1 and Dhaka-10 -- the main opposition participated in a poll for the second time under the Khaleda Zia administration. This was the 16th by-poll of the incumbent eighth parliament that came into being in 2001.

AL candidate Ahsanullah Master won at the constituency in 2001 and 1996 general elections while MA Mannan was elected on BNP ticket in 1991.

Thousands of enthusiastic voters queued up at many polling centres at the beginning of polling to elect a lawmaker from eight in the fray for the country's second largest constituency.

Polling agents of the two main parties were seen in each polling booth.

Heavy presence of security forces, army patrol and quick trial by mobile courts erased panic among voters and ensured a peaceful atmosphere during the non-stop eight-hour polling from 8:00am.

Flood in some areas of the constituency, consisting of Gazipur Sadar and Tongi upazila, could not prevent the voters from exercising their franchise.

Re-location of 20 centres created some difficulties, as many voters did not know about the Election Commission move.

A few allegations of false voting, overnight intimidation and driving out polling agents were reported from 195 polling centres of the constituency, which fell vacant at the assassination of AL lawmaker Ahsanullah at a rally in Tongi on May 7.

After casting his vote at Porabari Primary School centre at 12:00pm, 90-year-old Mohammad Rabiullah said: "I came here to cast a vote for Russell orphaned by the killing of Ahsanullah."

He hoped his vote would not go in vain. "We all cast our votes for him, if the election is free and fair, he must win," said Rabiullah, blinking back tears.

Most presiding officers said they did not receive any allegation of false voting or driving away of polling agents.

"No polling agent or candidate lodged any complaint with me," Abdul Latif Shah, presiding officer of Chandana High School centre, told The Daily Star.

Mannan and Russell expressed satisfaction over the poll atmosphere, but accused each other of creating trouble in some centres.

"In some centres, the ruling party activists deprived a number of voters of exercising their franchise and cast false votes," Russell said.

He said at least one of his polling agents was driven out by ruling alliance activists from Islamia Madrasa centre and in some areas BNP men forced voters to leave the centres without casting votes.

Mannan countered the charges, saying: "I have received allegations of fake voting in some polling centres by the Awami League adherents in the morning."

Sajeda Mannan, wife of the BNP candidate, said the election was held in a free and fair atmosphere.

Poll watchers said the by-election was held peacefully, but voters' turnout was between 45 and 50 percent, lower than the usual presence.

SPORADIC INCIDENTS

Law-enforcers detained Abdul Kader, younger brother of the BNP candidate, for a few minutes at Salma Nasir Uddin Memorial High School and College as he created trouble inside a booth.

Kader hurled abuses at Abu Sayeed, polling agent of an independent candidate, and attempted to assault him at about 8:20am, 20 minutes after polling opened.

A group of five youths led by BNP activist Zahirul forced rival AL activists distributing voter number slips to leave the centre.

BNP workers also forced some AL voters to leave the centre without casting their votes, an AL activist alleged.

President of district AL and Chairman of Gazipur municipality AKM Mozammel Haq reached the spot and settled the dispute.

FLOOD HIT PUBAIL

Floodwaters hobbled people from casting their votes in Tongi's Pubail union forcing many, especially women, to take a two-kilometre boat ride to exercise their franchise.

Floodwaters swamped the main road at many points, leaving motor boats the only option for the residents to go to polling centres.

But long queues formed at many centres amid a mood of festivity.

Hafiz, an elderly voter, said, "The administration is tight this time. Nobody dared to create problem."

About two-thirds of voters at Pubail High School belonged to the minority Hindu community.

"Had the miscreants not threatened some minority families of dire consequences in Bindhan and Udursekulia villages and hurled bombs at their houses on Saturday night, many more voters would have turned out," said Jabid Ahsan Sohel, younger brother of the AL candidate.

Picture
Zahid Ahsan Russell