The first ever election with Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) had a lukewarm response from voters
The ruling Awami League mayoral candidates in the twin elections to Dhaka North and South City Corporation have won in big margins to their BNP rivals in yesterday's polls.
The first ever election with Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), however, had a lukewarm response from voters. Voter turnout was the lowest in a decade.
Despite three-weeks of strong campaign by the candidates, the flow of voters remained thin throughout the day. In most of the voting centres no polling agents of BNP candidates were found.
Those who voted were, however, happy with the electronic voting system, saying it made the job easier. Assistant presiding officers and polling officers in the booths were found busy explaining the use of the voting machines.
Save for a few isolated incidents, the 8-hour voting was mostly peaceful.
More than 50 lakh voters were to choose their next sets of mayors and councilors in the capital, which was split into two corporations in 2011. In 2468 polling centres 14,434 EVMs were deployed for the election. It was also a test case for the use of electronic voting machines which the Election Commission will use in later elections if they consider it a success.
Low voter turnout
Held about one year from the last general election the twin city corporation elections in Dhaka saw the lowest turnout in city elections in the country. At the last city elections in 2015, the turnout in Dhaka North City Corporation was 35.87 percent while in Dhaka South City Corporation the turnout was 48.57 percent. In other city corporations in the country held since 1994, the turnout ranged from 60 to 80 percent.
Voters waiting in queues was a rare scene in most of the centres. In Malika College at Dhanmondi, The Business Standard correspondents found a booth that did not have a single vote cast even three hours into the voting. No other booths of the premises that housed three voting centres could cross the two-digit mark in votes cast by that time. At 2PM, two hours before close of voting, one of the centres had 156 votes cast against a total of 2165 votes. In other words, voter turnout was a mere 7 percent.
However, at Diyabari, on the northern outskirts of the city, there were long queues of voters outside the booths.
At 8 AM, when voting began, there were no voter queues in the five centres at Rajdhani Uchho Bidyalay, which falls under Dhaka North City Corporation. Around 50 person, who seemed to be part of the campaign of councilor candidate Faridur Rahman Khan Iran, flocked to a room to cast votes. No polling agents of BNP mayoral candidate Tabith Awal was found in any of the booths. Nor were there any agents of BNP-supported councilor candidates.
While on his rounds, Election Commissioner Mahbub Talukder enquired about the absence of BNP polling agents when he went to inspect the Ispahani Girls High School and College centre.
When asked about the absence of BNP agents, Anowar Farooki and Matiur Rahman Choudhury, the presiding officers of two adjoining centres on the premises, said they had not received any application from the BNP candidates on the assigning of agents.
The Business Standard correspondents found two voters who claimed they were polling agents of Tabith Awal, but said they had stayed away from their duty because their families were threatened the evening before.
Only one BNP polling agent was found in one of the women-only centres that had a very low turnout of voters. In one and a half hours, only 13 votes were cast there.
BNP candidate Tabith Awal from Dhaka North and Ishraq Hossain from Dhaka South continued to complain throughout the day about ruling party men driving away their polling agents from the centres.
Meanwhile, ruling AL candidates Atiqul Islam from Dhaka North and Fazle Noor Taposh from Dhaka South rejected the BNP complaints and commented that polling was peaceful.
At Viqarunnisa Noon School centre, a female voting centre had only around 14 percent turnout at polls closing.
Meanwhile, the Chief Election Commissioner K M Nurul Huda said last evening that he was figuring a voter turnout of around 30 percent.
EVM voting was smooth
Rabiul Alam, a young student, emerging from a voting centre at Kathalbagan Khan Hasan Government Primary School, said he was happy to cast his first ever vote in life with a state-of-the-art system. He found it smooth and quick. In the same centre Dr. Ahmed N Islam, an octogenarian retired physician, said educated people found it easy to vote through the EVM but he wondered if it would be the same for an uneducated person not familiar with buttons and biometric systems.
Correspondents of The Business Standard found polling officer Mary Minoti Gomes busy explaining to female voters the EVM process. She said, "Most of the voters are catching up with the process pretty quickly."
An EVM machine broke down at Badrunnesa College centre, Bakshibazar, stalling the voting for 20 minutes before the machine was replaced. Presiding officer Noor Uddin said, "We have spare machines. So glitches can't stop the voting."
There were a few cases around the city where older voters had difficulty with the fingerprints matches, often slowing down the voting process.
Agents inside voting booth
Fardaus Mobarok, who cast his vote in a voting centre at Jamila Ainul Ananda High School, said that privacy inside the voting booth was violated by polling agents who dictated to him to vote for a certain mayoral candidate.
In a number of other cases at Dr. Malika College, Dhanmondi centre, voters complained that polling agents had tried to enter their booth on the pretext of helping them.
At Faridabad Alia Madrasa centre at Gandaria, a voter complained that polling agents had entered his polling booth and forced him to cast his vote in favor of their mayoral candidate. As journalists were gathering information on the incident, the correspondent of The Business Standard was harassed by the polling staff of the mayoral candidate. His phone was forcibly taken away. It was returned after an hour.
Several voters at five centres of Dhaka Polytechnic Institute complained that ruling party men had entered polling booths and forced people to vote for their candidates.
In Faridabad Alia Madrasa centre, Shahidullah Minu, a rebel councilor candidate of Awami League, and his associates at around 10 am attacked BNP candidate Faruk Hasan and his men and chased them out of the centre. A few minutes later the same group attacked another rebel Awami League candidate and his men. These incidents, however, did not delay the voting process.
However, voting at the Jago Foundation School at Rayerbazar was halted for 45 minutes when supporters of two rival councilor candidates clashed in the centre.
Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh of Awami League bags 424,595 votes to get elected as Dhaka South mayor; his rival Ishraque Hossain of BNP polls 236,512.
In Dhaka North, Atiqul Islam of AL bags 447,211 votes to get elected as mayor; his rival Tabith Awal of BNP polls 264,161.