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Nation goes to polls today

by BanglaPress Desk

Banglapress Desk: The nation goes to 11th parliamentary elections today amid a climate of fear and allegations of intimidation by law enforcers and ruling Awami League and absence of level playing field for opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led alliances.
The elections will determine whether or not AL will continue to rule the country for the third consecutive term paving the way for incumbent prime minister Sheikh Hasina for her fourth term.
Many opposition candidates, especially those of Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led alliances, alleged that they were in trouble placing polling agents as they (candidates) were in a kind of confinement.
A total of 10,42,38,677 voters — 5,25,72,365 male and 5,16,66,312 female — are listed to exercise their franchise as the polling would be held between 8:00am and 4:00pm without any break in 299 constituencies out of 300 seats.
Election to Gaibandha 3 was suspended following the death of a candidate.
Some 1,861 candidates including 1,733 persons nominated by political parties and 128 independent candidates are contesting the polls.
Of the partisan candidates, 282 are contesting the polls with BNP’s electoral symbol sheaf of paddy, 272 with boat symbol of , ruling Awami League, 175 with Jatiya Party’s symbol plough and highest 298 candidates with Islami Andolon Bangladesh’s electoral symbol hand fan.
Candidates of some partners of both BNP- and AL-led alliances are contesting the polls with their own symbols.
Of them, four candidates are of Liberal Democratic Party, five each of Krishak Sramik Janata League and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Bangladesh, 15 of Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal-JSD (Rob), two of Bangladesh Jatiya Party-BJP, 10 of Khelafat Majlish while one of Bangladesh Kalyan Party candidates is contesting the polls with BNP’s sheaf of paddy.
Three candidates of Workers Party of Bangladesh, 23 of Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh, eight of Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal and 16 of Bangladesh Tarikat Federation candidates are contesting the elections with their own symbols alongside Awami League’s boat.
Polling will be held in 40,183 polling stations where 2,07,312 booths have been set up. Candidates are expected to set polling agents in all polling booths in their respective constituencies.
Nearly one crore of the voters, nine per cent of the total voters, are young voters.
Opposition BNP chief Khaleda Zia and other 26 candidates of the alliances, led by the party, are not in the race as the court cancelled their candidature after submission of petitions, in most of the cases by rival Awami League-led alliance candidates.
Eighteen opposition candidates are in the race from prison and most of them were taken to jail after submission of nomination papers.
Forty-four candidates of the BNP-led alliance were physically attacked allegedly by AL activists and police, according to our correspondents. BNP, however, claimed that the number of the victim candidates were sixty-four.
Chief election commissioner KM Nurul Huda on Saturday asked law enforcement agencies to create safe environment for all curbing violence and sabotages during the polling.
‘If any violent situation appears or sabotages occurs, I’m directing them to curb those with iron hands,’ he said at a pre-polls press conference at Election Commission media centre in the capital.
A small number of 163 foreign observers, who were registered with EC, will observe the polls as most of them cancelled their travel due to delay in getting visa for visiting Bangladesh.
Some local employees of different diplomatic missions and other international organisations are likely to observe the polls.
A total of 25,900 local election observers of 81 organisations got registered with EC to monitor the polls.
Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission on Saturday afternoon suspended 3G and 4G mobile phone services across the country asking them to downgrade mobile internet to 2G with immediate effect, a day ahead of the nation goes for the general elections today.
The restrictions would continue till midnight today.
The government imposed a ban on movement of unauthorised motor-run vehicles and private helicopters across the country.
Sixteen international organisations on Saturday expressed their concern about what they described as ‘undemocratic electoral environment’ involving the 11th general election in Bangladesh.
They said this in a joint statement issued from Bangkok headquarters of Asian Network for Free Elections.
Awami League president and prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Saturday urged all, including her party candidates and followers, not to be confused if Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jatiya Oikya Front announced their withdrawal from Sunday’s election halfway through.
‘All must stay alert so that the JOF cannot make [the] election questionable,’ she said while coming out from the Combined Military Hospital at Dhaka Cantonment after visiting critically injured Awami League activist Mahbubur Rahman of Dinajpur.
She requested the voters to cast their votes and the candidates of her alliance to collect the result-sheets having the signatures of presiding and returning officers.
Jatiya Oikya Front chief Dr Kamal Hossain on Saturday urged Election Commission and election officials, including returning officers and assistant returning officers, to ensure the environment so that people could exercise their franchise in the general election.
‘If you discharge your duties properly, it’ll increase your dignity. The success of your duties will be determined by the smile on the faces of voters,’ he said at a press conference in Dhaka.
‘If you snatch anyone’s right, remember that someone else is taking away the right of your father, mother, wife and children. If you do this, people, history and the law won’t forgive you,’ he said.
He also urged people in general, young voters in particular, to go to polling centres across the country in the morning to cast their votes.
Chief of army staff General Aziz Ahmed on Saturday said the election environment in Bangladesh was calm and peaceful.
‘We haven’t seen such a calm and peaceful [voting] atmosphere in 47 years,’ General Ahmed told reporters near Azimpur Government Girls School and College in Dhaka a day before the polls, according to United News of Bangladesh.
Electronic voting machines will be used in six consistencies. The six constituencies are Dhaka 6 and 13, Chattogram 9, Rangpur 3, Khulna 2 and Satkhira 2.
A total of 6.08 lakh law enforcers have been deployed at polling stations for maintaining law and order.
Besides, 414 platoons of Bangladesh Army have been deployed at 389 upazilas and 48 platoons of Bangladesh Navy, 983 platoons of Border Guard Bangladesh, 600 platoons of Rapid Action Battalion are on election duty in different places.
A total of 1,328 executive magistrates — 652 for checking violation of electoral code of conduct and the rest 676 with striking and mobile forces of law enforcers — were deployed while 640 judicial magistrates and 122 electoral enquiry committees were on election duty.
A total of 66 returning officers, 582 assistant returning officers, 40,183 presiding officers, 2.07 lakh assistant presiding officers and 4.14 lakh polling officers have been appointed to conduct the polls.
New Age correspondents reported that electioneering and campaign materials including posters of BNP as well as Jatiya Oikya Front candidates were not visible in the respective electoral areas during the electioneering since December 10.
The government declared holiday for today for facilitating the polling.
Voting at Gaibandha 3 constituency would be held on January 27.
The 10th parliamentary elections were held on January 5, 2014, amid boycott by most parties including BNP demanding an election-time non-party caretaker government. The AL had got absolute majority with 154 members of the house elected uncontested making Sheikh Hasina prime minister for the second consecutive terms.
The 9th parliamentary polls were held in December, 2008, under a military-controlled interim government after about a two-year emergency making ways for her to become prime minister for the second time. She had become the prime minister for the first time in 1996.

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