World, Asia - Pacific

Bangladesh holds local elections amid violence, vitriol

Voters in 60 municipalities cast ballots in 2nd phase of local government elections

SM Najmus Sakib   | 16.01.2021
Bangladesh holds local elections amid violence, vitriol

DHAKA, Bangladesh

Voting for 60 municipalities across Bangladesh was held on Saturday amid sporadic incidents of violence and boycotts by opposition parties in some areas.

Polling for the second phase of local government elections continued from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the Bangladesh Election Commission (EC) imposing strict safety measures in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed over 7,800 lives in the country.

The first phase of the elections was held last month and the third and fourth are scheduled for Jan. 30 and Feb. 14, respectively.

Despite heightened security presence due to fears of violence, at least two people died in clashes between political workers in the southwestern Jhenaidah district, while several more injuries were reported in incidents across the country.

Accusing the ruling Awami League of pre-poll rigging and voter suppression, opposition forces boycotted polls in at least five municipalities.

Polling in 28 of the 60 municipalities was conducted through electronic voting machines (EVMs), a move opposed by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

According to Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, BNP’s secretary general, the EVM system utilized by the EC is “the worst in the world” and can be used to manipulate results.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the elections, he called on the government to resign and hold free and fair elections for “the sake of the country’s democracy.”

He contended that the current EC was “biased and corrupt,” and there was no chance of the elections being fair.

The ruling party, however, rejected the claims and vowed not to interfere in the election process.

Opposition politicians citied what they said was a low voter turnout on Saturday as proof of the government’s ill intent.

However, Ashok Kumar Debnath, a bureaucrat in the administrative department, said polling was largely smooth and uninterrupted.

“Stray incidents of violence here and there will not influence the entire election results. We deployed additional security personnel to maintain law and order, as requested by local EC officials,” he told Anadolu Agency.

According to him, about 20% of votes were cast by noon in areas where EVMs were used.

“EVMs are safe machines that help us curb attempts to rig and manipulate the results,” he stressed.​​​​​​​

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