A presiding officer at one of the centres said when the ruling party men entered the polling centres, they had no option but to be silent spectators
Voting began at 8:05am at two of the polling centres at the Viqarunnisa Noon School and College on Saturday.
Moniruzzaman Manik, a resident of Ramna area, came to the men's centre at 8:12am but could not cast his vote for a while due to technical glitches.
He roamed as many as three booths of the male-only centre on the second floor. But whenever the polling agents entered his smart National ID card into the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM), the machine was unable to read the card and did not recognise him as an enlisted voter.
After running around from booth to booth for 15 minutes, Manik finally cast his vote at 8:29am.
Of the seven booths at the Viqarunnisa Noon School and College male polling centre, six faced technical glitches. The fourth booth of the centre remained out of commission even 30 minutes after voting had begun in all other booths.
Moreover, the voter numbers were not properly allotted to the booths, resulting in most voters having a hard time figuring out where to go.
The Business Standard observed the entire process at 6 polling centres from the beginning of voting in the morning till polling ended at 4pm. Four correspondents were stationed at the centres for the entire duration.
At the men's centre, only 35 votes were cast in the first hour. Throughout the day, fingerprint verification was the main obstacle in most of the booths.
Eminent Jurist Dr Kamal Hossain, founder and president of Gano Forum and leader of the Jatiya Oikya Front, also faced the same problem when he went to cast his vote at 10:17 am.
The machine said his fingerprint did not match his voter number.
After repeatedly entering his fingerprint for 10 minutes, he finally cast his ballot when assistant presiding officer Kausar-E-Jahan used her fingerprint to allow Dr Kamal Hossain's vote to be accepted.
Kamal said the process is too complicated, doubting whether people would have the patience to go through with whole process.
"I have looked at the voting turnout and found that in the last two and a half hours, the number of votes cast is less than 100. It seems people do not trust this voting process," he said.
At 1:10 pm, a number of men, allegedly supporters of the ruling party-backed councillor candidate, entered the centre and asked Presiding Officer Muhammad Mustafizur Rahman how they could cast fake votes.
However, the presiding officer disappointed them by saying that this could not be done using EVMs.
Later, they entered the booths and tried persuading people to vote for their candidates. Voters who disagreed were threatened. Neither the presiding officer, nor the police intervened.
While leaving the centre without casting their votes, some people claimed that ruling party activists had harassed them and tried to coerce them into voting for certain candidates.
Nur-un-Nabi, a public job holder who lives in the Circuit House area, said he left without casting his vote because a man had entered his polling booth and refused to leave.
Throughout the day, many other voters also got involved in altercations with the ruling party activists and opted out of casting their votes.
Activists and voters continued to lock horns since afternoon, which ended up in a clash at the very last minutes of the deadline.
At 3:35 pm, a brawl broke out when supporters of rebel Awami League councillor candidate Munshi Kamruzzaman Kajol tried cast fake votes at the fourth booth where activists were already casting votes in favour of the authorised ruling party candidate Abul Bashar.
Bashar's supporters attacked pro-Kajol activists. When Kajol came to the rescue of his supporters, Bashar's men also attacked him and left him with major injuries.
The activists also vandalised the place, following which voting was stopped at the Viqarunnisa Noon School and College centre.
After the polling hour ended, only 699 votes – only 26 percent of the total 2,639 voters – were cast in the centre.
On the first floor of the same building the voting centre for women had only a 14 percent turnout.
The total number of voters for the centre was 2,547, but only 358 votes had been cast till 4pm.
At the five polling centres of the Dhaka Polytechnic Institute, turnout was even lower.
A male voter entered a room of the Dhaka Polytechnic Institute's centre 3 at 12:50pm. Completing the fingerprint verification process, he entered the polling booth – divided by a thin piece of cloth – but not alone.
Another man, who introduced himself as Arif Mia, the vice-president of the Bangladesh Chhatra League's (BCL) Dhaka Polytechnic Institute unit, also accompanied the voter.
At least 30 more men – wearing laminated cards with symbols of the ruling party around their necks – entered the polling booth. Some of them took a permanent position inside the room, although they were not polling agents of any candidate.
These men controlled the rules of engagement in the polling centres as voting started at 8am, led by Mehedi Hasan, president of the BCL Dhaka Polytechnic Institute unit.
"Most people don't understand what EVM is. So, we were helping the voters," said some of the ruling party men.
A presiding officer at one of the centres, preferring anonymity, said when the ruling party men entered the polling centres, they had no option but to be silent spectators.
"There were ruling party men with arms whose presence scared the voters. I don't think the voting had been fair. These armed men became the leaders inside the centres – controlling every move and vote being cast. Being a part of such an election makes me feel ashamed," said an assistant presiding officer.
"At first we took the fingerprints of the voter. But when a voter enters the booth, anyone can give his vote through the machine. This is the limitation of the electronic voting machine [EVM]."
More than two presiding officers of the five centres shared the same view.
"Only polling agents and election commission-permitted people can stay inside the polling centre. But some are trying to stay here. We are driving them away from the centres," said Sridham Chandra Hawladar, sub-inspector of Tejgaon Shilpanchal police station.
At 3:50pm there was a sudden noise and shouting in the some of the centres. A worried EVM technician was seen running towards the centre where BCL leader Mehedi Hasan had last been seen.
Meanwhile, the ruling party activists entered all the centres and were seen trying to cast votes by themselves.
Asked about the issue, the presiding officer of one of the centres said, "They changed the password. Please don't ask me any further questions. We are in trouble from the beginning."
The voting continued till 4:15 pm. One of the assistant presiding officers said, "When they changed the password, the number of votes cast in my booth was 57. After the voting finished, it stood at 77."
14.50 percent vote cast in five centres
There were 11,561 voters in the five centres. But there was no long queue of voters. At 12pm, only 7 percent votes were cast and 11 percent of votes were cast till 2pm.
After all the hard works of the ruling party men, after voting ended, a total of 14.50 percent votes were cast.
The EVM voting procedure took an average of two minutes in the centre. A technical malfunction delayed the result by two and a half hours in centre 2.
"People's craze about elections has faded away. The voters are not interested in elections anymore," said Mehedi Hasan, a voter of Tejgaon.
"The total electoral system has lost people's trust," said a presiding officer.
Moreover, there was no polling agent of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) nominated mayor candidate at any of the five centres. Only one agent of the Islami Andolon Bangladesh was present. But all the polling agents of the ruling party were there.
"We didn't find any BNP polling agents," said Mahmudul Hasan, the presiding officer of centre 2.
The BCL activists also harassed two correspondents of The Business Standard as they covered the polls. Journalists of Asian TV and a photojournalist of The Financial Express also faced challenges while covering the polling process at the area.
Reported by Eyamin Sajid, Kamran Siddiqui, Abdullah Al Mamun and Salah Uddin Mahmud.