July 14, 2024, 7:40 pm

3rd phase of Upazila polls comes to a close

  • Update Time : Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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TDS Desk:

Polls at 87 Upazilas have closed with a relatively low voter turnout and without reports of major irregularities.

However, ballot papers were allegedly stolen from a polling centre in Chattogram’s Patia, a presiding officer was detained in Feni’s Sadar Upazila over irregularities, allegations of fake ballots came up in Noakhali’s Companyganj, a person was sentenced to six months in prison for voter fraud, a person was detained in Kishoreganj’s Tarail for trying to act as a ‘proxy’ to an election officer, and there were clashes between the supporters of two candidates in Rajshahi’s Paba and Mohanpur Upazilas.

An assistant presiding officer at Habiganj Upazila has died after falling ill while performing their duties.

Balloting, held soon after Cyclone Remal struck Bangladesh’s coast, is likely to see a low voter turnout, according to experts.

Polls opened at 8am on Wednesday and closed at 4pm. However, those who were able to enter the premises of their designated polling centres can still cast their ballots.

Election Commission Secretary Md Jahangir Alam said there were no major incidents and voting proceeded peacefully. He said that though the turnout was low in places until the afternoon, he hoped it would pick up before polls closed.

He had previously stated that turnout was between 16 and 20 percent after the first four hours of the polls.

Although the Election Commission initially announced a schedule for votes to be cast in 112 Upazilas in the third phase, it was halted in 22 Upazilas due to Cyclone Remal.

Voting was also postponed in Narshingdi’s Raipura as a candidate was killed.

In addition, votes in Jashore’s Sadar Upazila were halted due to legal complications while in Pirojpur’s Bhandaria the posts were filled unopposed.

The first two phases of the Upazila Parishad election were peaceful despite low voter turnout but there have been more reported incidents of violence and breaches of the election code of conduct in the run up to the third phase.

To allow for a ‘competitive’ election, the ruling party Awami League did not nominate any candidate or allow their party symbol to be used by any of those running. Hence, Awami League leaders vying for the Upazila posts are running as independent candidates.

The BNP has been adamant about boycotting the Upazila polls, as it did the national election. However, their members are contesting the election as independent candidates in more than 50 Upazilas. At least 216 of them have since been expelled for going against the party’s decision.

# A total of 1,152 candidates are contesting the third phase of the Upazila polls

# 397 of them vying for the chairman posts, 456 for vice chairman and 299 for women vice chairman posts

# Local Awami League leaders came out on top in the first few phases. 10 others, including expelled BNP leaders, won their races.

INTEREST IN ELECTION CONTINUES TO EBB

On May 8, at least 36 percent of votes were cast in the first phase of the sixth Upazila election. The turnout was 38 percent in the second phase on May 21.

In 2019, the average turnout was 39.71 percent in the fifth Upazila Parishad election. It was 60.93 percent in 2014 in the fourth Upazila election and 67.69 percent in the third Upazila election in 2009.

Accordingly, the latest election shows the lowest voter turnout in local elections in the past one and a half decades.

Former election commissioner Kabita Khanam acknowledged that voter turnout was gradually dropping in local elections.

“It rained a lot in the coastal areas, Dhaka and other places due to the effect of Cyclone Remal. But I don’t think it will impact the voter turnout. The disaster has already subsided,” she said.

“We should think about why the voter turnout is dropping. Maybe the voters have lost faith.”

The voter turnout will increase if the authorities could win back the trust of voters, the former commissioner said.

“I don’t think the upcoming elections will see more voters. A big party and its alliance boycotted the election. They are even expelling those who defied the party’s order and took part in the election. Also, some negative propaganda has been spread against the election. This is a reason for low voter turnout. The EC can’t push up the voter turnout alone. Everyone must step forward,” said Kabita.

Election analyst Abdul Alim believed the voter turnout in the third phase would remain the same as in the last two phases or may differ very little.

“Remal could be one issue. Another issue is that voters lose interest if the election isn’t competitive. As they know the contest between leaders of a single party, they feel they don’t need to vote,” he said.

ELECTION INFO

  • No. of constituencies: 87 Upazilas
  • Polling centres: 7,450
  • Voting booths: 54,089
  • Voters: More than 20.8 million
  • Male voters: 10.6 million
  • Female voters: 10.2 million
  • Third gender voters: 114
  • EVMs in use in 16 Upazilas
  • Ballot papers will be used in the remaining 71 Upazilas

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