Vol. 5 Num 381 Thu. June 23, 2005  
Front Page

Low turnout, fake voting mark Narsingdi by-polls
Ruling alliance candidate wins; capture of polling centres alleged

Ruling alliance candidate Khairul Kabir Khokon won yesterday's Narsingdi-1 by-election which was marked by low turnout, fake voting and capture of polling centres.

According to unofficial results, Khokon bagged 86,005 votes against 60,198 polled by his nearest rival Shahadat Hossain Munna, an independent candidate, in the by-polls boycotted by the main opposition Awami League (AL).

A total of 1,48,419 voters out of 2,61,978 cast their votes that shows a turnout of 57 percent but election observers said the turnout was very low.

The supporters of the ruling alliance candidate allegedly drove the polling agents of other candidates away from a number of polling centres.

They chased and assaulted Munna and his supporters at the Narsingdi Government Girls' School centre at about 2.20pm. A procession of the independent candidate also came under the police attack in the afternoon.

Returning Officer M Firoz Salahuddin however told reporters at his office that the election was held in a free, fair and transparent manner. He denied the allegation of false voting and capture of polling centres.

Turnout of voters was thin as people had a little enthusiasm about the by-election due to the boycott by the main opposition party. Most of the polling centres wore a deserted look three to four hours after the balloting started at 8:00am.

Different election observer groups including National Election Observation Council and Bangladesh Centre for Human Rights and Development in their preliminary reports said the voters' turnout was very low in the by-polls.

Khokon, a former Dhaka University Central Students' Union (Ducsu) general secretary, and Munna were the main contestants to win the seat that fell vacant at the death of BNP lawmaker Shamsuddin Ahmed Ishaq.

Munna and his supporters came under attack at the Narsingdi Government Girls' School centre by the ruling party men from their party office in front of the school.

"Police and other law-enforcers were at the centre but they did not come to rescue me when the BNP cadres swooped on me," Munna alleged.

After driving Munna and his supporters away from Satirpar area, the BNP men brought out procession chanting slogans against the independent candidate.

Munna later led a procession to the returning officer's office but it came under police attack while passing the Station Road area at about 3:00pm.

The cops intercepted the procession and charged batons on Munna's supporters when they tried to break the police barricade. They however allowed Munna and a few of his election agents to meet the returning officer (RO).

Munna submitted a written complaint to the RO alleging that the supporters of the ruling alliance candidate forced his agents to leave different polling centres. He accused the administration of working for the BNP candidate.

He said the alliance supporters drove away his agents from Narsingdi Govt Girls School, Satirpar KK High School, Bhelanagar Govt Primary School, Madhabdi SP Institute, Brahmandi Govt High School, Shalidha Govt Primary School, Brahmanpara Govt Primary School and Shahepratap Govt Primary School centres.

Munna accused the polling officers of slowing down the process of vote casting in char areas where he claimed a huge number of voters turned up to cast their votes. He felt that the slow vote casting would only help the ruling alliance candidate.

But Khokon refuted his competitor's allegation and said people cast their votes peacefully and without any intimidation. Asked about the attack on Munna and his supporters and the capture of polling centres, Khokon said he was not aware of that.

The Daily Star correspondents while visiting different centres found at least two centres at Brahmhandi and Satirpar captured by the ruling party men.

Local BNP leader Monjur-e-Elahi led a group of about 30 youths who forcibly entered the Brahmandi KK Government School polling centre at noon.

When the group started fake voting at the centre, Presiding Officer ARM Anisuzzaman challenged them but the BNP leader warned him of dire consequences.

The Satirpar KK Institution centre was also captured in the same way.

Around 4,500 law-enforcers, including army and paramilitary BDR, were on duty during the eight-hour balloting that ended at 4:00pm without any break. There were 15 striking forces, 41 mobile forces and five mobile courts.

Unusual vote casting and fake voting were found at Shalidha Government Primary School centre. According to the presiding officer, in the first hour of the balloting, a total of 1,200 votes were cast out of the total 4,459.

"It takes two minutes to cast a vote but sometimes women take more time to cast their votes compared to the male," said Giasuddin Ahmed, the presiding officer.

Asked how 1,200 votes were cast in only one hour, Ahmed replied, "There was a huge rush of voters in the morning and we have seven booths."

Police arrested two boys at the centre on charges of fake voting. The arrestees, Idris Ali and Saddam Hossain, told The Daily Star that one Bachchu, belonging to the local BNP unit, had sent them for casting fake votes for Khokon.

When The Daily Star correspondents went to Narsingdi Government Girls High School centre at 10:00am, a handful of voters were found casting their votes. The assistant presiding officers and polling agents were found gossiping.

Presiding Officer KN Tamjidul Alam said some 600 votes had been cast till 10:00am.

At the Duttapara Government Primary School centre, the vote casting was unusually slow. The presiding officer of the centre said 1,050 votes had been cast till 2:00pm.

The voters' presence at the Narsingdi Pilot High School was also thin. Mohammad Shahidullah, presiding officer of the centre, said 1,100 votes had been cast till 2:00pm.

A mobile court arrested two youths -- Abdul Quddus and Hajrat Ali -- from Dilalpur Govt Primary School Centre on charge of roaming around the centre with sharp weapons.

At the Basail Government Primary School Centre, Munna's agent Nurul Islam was beaten up allegedly by the alliance workers at about 8:00am.

At the Narsingdi Women's College Centre, Munna's polling agents Abid Hossan Rinku and Asad Hossain Bhuiyan were driven away by their opponents at about 10:30am.

The Narsingdi Government Girls' High School centre looks almost deserted during the Narsingdi-1 by-election yesterday. PHOTO: STAR