JANIPOP Observation Report on Bangladesh Muktijoddha Sangshad Elections 26, June 2010 Part-4

Highlights of the day

Poll Logistics and Security Arrangements

Observers throughout the country reported that supply of poll logistics were adequate. The materials required for the election were available in the polling stations. The Presiding officer and concerned polling officers showed blank ballot boxes and seal to those who were present in general. Markers with indelible ink, pads, and seals were supplied for use in the booths. Each booth had secret stamping areas which were sufficiently private for stamping on the ballot papers. In some polling stations observers reported lack of privacy in the secret stamping areas.

Case Study 1: Upazilla- Sherpur Proper , District- Sherpur

A voter dropping his ballot in open box at G.K.P.M. Institution in Sherpur Sadar

A voter dropping his ballot in open box at G.K.P.M. Institution in Sherpur Sadar

JANIPOP observer Dr. A.K.M. Reazul Hassan (ID No. 5) reported that from the very beginning of the polling the ballot boxes of the station were kept open. When asked, both the Presiding Officer and the Assistant Returning Officer told that the ballot boxes were not sealed because the sheets of ballot paper of the Central Command Council was so thick that it would be difficult for a voter to drop it into the ballot box. The concerned polling agents of contesting candidates did not object to this arrangement though it was a gross violation of the standard practice of election process.

G.K.P.M. Institution in Sherpur Sadar wearing head gear of a particular panelFurthermore, passage of the ballot in the iron-framed ballot boxes were too thin to pass on filled in stamped ballot papers which were too coarse and lengthy. In many polling booths ballot box designated for Central Command Council were found open and kept in unsealed state. Apparently, the polling agents in most cases did not raise objections realizing the coarseness of the ballot paper.
Information gathered by JANIPOP shows that out of 68 polling stations all the stations had adequate stationeries available (please see table:1, and the graph).Adequate number of security personnel was reported to be deployed by the authorities throughout the country. After getting intimation of trouble even RAB was deployed at Borhanuddin polling station in Bhola. After apprehending trouble, sufficient number of police force was deployed at Hazigonj Polling station in Chandpur. Rover Scouts were dispatched in different polling stations in Dhaka City.

Presence of Authorized Polling Agents

In most of the cases the presence of the authorized polling agents were found. The agents had polling roll, and good seating arrangements, good visibility to the voting process and activities. However, they were not all along present in some cases. Most of them were found not using any identification arm-band or identification card on display. JANIPOP observers reported that there were polling agents in 64 polling stations out of 68 (94.11%).

Case study 2: Upazilla –Chunarughat, District- Habigonj

JANIPOP observer Md. Nasir Uddin (ID No. 57) observed that in booth no. 1 of the Chunarughat Government Primary School polling station, ballot boxes designated for Upazilla and District Command were duly sealed. However, the ballot box designated for the Central Command Council was kept open. None of the three boxes in booth no. 2 was sealed. One false vote was casted for a deceased person named Mr. Razab Ali, having voter no. 267 by ballot paper no. 0503030550, but the culprit could not be identified. Voters were allowed to cast their votes without producing their national ID card or Freedom Fighter’s ID card in deviation of standard practice.

Timely Start of the Election
Polling started on time at 9 a.m. in almost all the polling stations all over Bangladesh. However, torrential rain and inclement weather hampered voters’ movement to the polling station throughout the country. Because of non-availability of polling agents in some booths poll officials had to wait for 15 minutes or so for starting the voting process. In one of the booths at New Model High School polling station in Dhaka City ballot boxes were sealed at 9:15 a.m. due to non-availability of polling agents. JANIPOP observers reported that the polling started on time in 66 stations out of 68 (97.05%).

Ballot Serial at the Start of Voting

Polling officials were found to take note of the serial number of the ballot at the start of the voting process throughout the country. JANIPOP observers also took note of the ballot serial in most cases. JANIPOP observers reported compliance in 66 stations out of 68 (97.05%).

Voters with ID Cards

This was an area of confusion. Some of the voters did not carry any ID, neither the national ID nor the Freedom Fighter’s ID card with them. When asked for the ID, some voters responded that there were no such directives from anybody to carry such card. A few of the voters had argument with the officials and said that they feel insulted by asking for the ID. Some had their national ID card but refused to produce before the polling official, and said that if the polling agent can identify them, then that should be taken as the final identity in a more philosophical stance. JANIPOP observers reported compliance of the practice in 61 polling stations out of reported 68. Four stations did not comply (5.88%). However, such cases were not isolated ones. The polling officials did not refuse any one for not carrying or producing the ID cards as reported by JANIPOP observers throughout the country.

The Assistant Returning Officers of Dhaka Abu Hena Mr. Morshed Zaman published and pasted black and white posters delineating instructions for the voters throughout his jurisdiction. The poster clearly stated that voters would have to produce their National ID Cards before the poll officials. No such affirmative action had been taken by other Assistant Returning Officers in other districts except Dhaka as reported by JANIPOP observers.

Case study 3: Dhaka City- Motijhil Ideal School, District- Dhaka

JANIPOP observer Dr. Mojibur Rahman Doftori (ID No. 3) reported that there were disturbances at the main entry point of the polling station. At one point, police ousted one Nuruzzaman Bhutto from the polling station who was found campaigning in favor of a candidate.

Accessibility of Disabled Voters

In most cases, the booths were located in the ground floor of the polling stations throughout the country. For example, in the Dhaka Government Muslim High School and Ideal School polling stations in Dhaka City all the booths were situated in the ground floor. In New Model High School polling station, a special booth for the disabled voters was arranged in the ground floor. This was an excellent idea. On duty Rover Scout Azad, age 23, 3rd year, Economics student of Titumir College, mentioned to the JANIPOP observer that he had handled elderly voters, voters who could not climb stairs, voters in wheel chairs, and voters suffering from Asthma.

Physical obstacles were not many, except the rain which made the polling station compounds muddy and slippery throughout the country. This natural phenomenon was unavoidable. The Scouts on duty where applicable were there with extended arm to help the aged voters whenever they needed.

Scouts helped in inserting the ballots in the box those who needed their help.JANIPOP observers reported that 61 stations out of 68 were accessible to the physically challenged voters (89.70%).

A physically challenged freedom fighter

in the polling booth at Dhaka Government Muslim High School

Timely Closure of Poll

Most of the polling stations reported to have closed polling on time. In some cases voters were allowed to vote who were already there within the enclosure. JANIPOP observers reported 68 stations followed the rule out of 68.

Ballot Serial at the End of Voting

At the end of the polling, the poll officials also noted the end serial of the ballot at the closing hour of the voting. In few cases this was not maintained, as for example, at Sherpur G.K.P.M. Institution polling station, the presiding officer and other poll officials did not follow this norm. 64 stations out of 68 (94.11%) followed the rule in this case.

Voter Turnout

Due to inclement weather, voter turnout was low throughout the country at the early hours of polling. Later on, as the day progressed, voter turnout picked up. However, the turnout rate was more satisfactory at the Upazilla level than in the larger cities.

Outside most of the polling stations, there was a festive mood among the supporters of different candidates. Md. Arif (Freedom Fighter ID No. 35) of Sherpur sadar interviewed by JANIPOP observer Dr. A.K.M. Reazul Hassan (ID No. 5) was of the opinion that elections through democratic means have made him and others happy. Through this election, the freedom fighters would be able to become active to render their national duty, he added. Advocate Prodeep Dey Krishna (Freedom Fighter ID No. 68) of the same constituency stated that this is for the first time in 40 years in the history of Bangladesh freedom fighters have got the opportunity to exercise their democratic rights to elect their representatives. This process should be continued, he also added.

In certain cases well known highly placed freedom fighters abstained from voting. Best example can be cited from the New Model High School Polling station in Dhaka City where not a single vote was casted in two polling booths (No. 2 & 3) out of eleven polling booths. Poll officials to their utter surprise discovered after perusing through the voter list that mostly VIP and well-known voters were supposed to cast their votes in those two booths.

Case study 4: Upazilla- Dinajpur Sadar, District-Dinajpur

JANIPOP observer Md. Ashraf Amir Ullah (ID No. 59) reported that at 11:30 a.m. one voter received two ballot papers from the concerned poll official. The voter concerned duly stamped one of the ballot papers and dropped into the box, while he threw the other ballot paper to corner of the room. This created a strife, which started at 11:30 a.m. and continued until 12:00 noon, resulting into stoppage of polling during that period.

Violence in and around the polling station

Except Borhanuddin, Bhola and Dinajpur Sadar, JANIPOP observers did not report any incidence of violence or temporary closure of poll. In some other stations altercations occurred amongst polling agents representing different candidates. In general, the polling environment in and around the polling stations observed by JANIPOP were found peaceful except in 5 stations out of 68 (7.35%).

Case study 5: Upazilla- Borhanuddin, District- Bhola

JANIPOP observer Md. Hasnain (ID No. 54) reported that polling agents of different candidates did not put on display any identification card in the polling booths. He reported that at 9:13 a.m. trouble erupted within and around the polling station. Unruly people smashed glass-panes of the windows of the polling station at the Kutuba High School. The vote casting was suspended from 9:13 a.m. to 9:34 a.m., for 20 minutes before the polling could be resumed. This is one piece of deviation from the standard polling practice. There were cases when non-voters in groups, perhaps influential people, entered into the secret chambers for stamping on the ballot papers, ignoring the advice of the presiding officer concerned. A person representing the candidate with the symbol Pen &Inkpot entered into the station claiming to be the journalist of the daily Rupali Desh, illegally. In the face of impending trouble, a contingent of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) rushed to the spot at 11:30 a.m. JANIPOP observer also reported that some voters in the station found that their votes had already been casted by somebody else.

Counting of votes casted

Vote Counting at Upazilla Parishad  Hall Room at Nilfamari SadarThroughout the country ballot counting started immediately after the casting was over. Ballot boxes were pulled and opened at the presiding officers’ room in front of polling agents, poll officials and in most cases in front of JANIPOP observers. The process of counting was slow and tedious. The long and three types of ballot papers made the task difficult. Outage of electricity aggravated the situation in some places, for example at New Model High School polling station, power supply was not there from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Poll officials had to work under candle light. However, 63 stations as reported by JANIPOP volunteers correctly counted the votes (92.64%).
Vote Counting at Upazilla Parishad
Hall Room at Nilfamari Sadar

In G.K.P.M. Institution polling station at Sherpur Sadar, JANIPOP observer observed that the presiding officer took the signatures of the polling agents on the eve of the counting process. As soon as the counting of ballots of Upazilla and District Command Council were over, the polling agents conveniently disappeared. Counting of ballots of Central Command Council continued for four or five hours. However, no polling agent was there to keep an eye on the remaining process.

Case study 6: Upazilla- Rangpur, District- Rangpur

JANIPOP observer Md. Hasibul Kabir (ID No. 67) reported that after half an hour of starting of the polling, one candidate, Mr. Bablu (with symbol of Bus) complained that in one of the booths three candidates entered, and one Bablu Master had been putting the seal in the ballot papers of two other persons. He lodged the protest with the presiding officer and UNO on the spot, and the three following votes were canceled with reference to Mr. Kasem Master (voter no. 25), Mr. Azizul Islam (Voter no. 67), and Mr. Rabi Mohanto (Voter no. 75)

Declaration of Results of the Elections

The declaration of results took a long time. The first result which reached the Central Control Room of the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs was from Khagrachari Hill District at early hours of the morning of 27 June, 2010.

Throughout the country, control rooms were designated in the office of the Deputy Commissionariate in order to facilitate the declaration of results. JANIPOP observers visited most of the control rooms in the District Head Quarters around the country. Even in the early hours of 27 June morning results were not available. JANIPOP volunteers reported announcement of the result in 64 stations out of 68 (94.11%) which came at different time of the day on 27th June. One of the volunteers became sick and could not report to his designated station for duty.
Availability of the Copy of the Results

JANIPOP observers throughout the country approached presiding officers to get a signed copy of the unofficial result. Copies of unofficial results were made available in 38 stations (55.88%); however volunteers did not stay in the station till all the votes were counted, due to work relating to post election observation.

In some cases presiding officers were found quite cooperative in delivering the signed copy of the results. But in many cases the presiding officers concerned refused to pass on the signed copy of the results to the observers.

Media Coverage

Both print and electronic media gave wide coverage of the Muktijoddha Sangshad Elections 2010. It holds true with reference to pre election and post election events. On the Election Day, electronic media such as BTV, ETV, NTV, RTV, Channel I, Tara Bangla, even TV SouthAsia telecasted footage on the event. Chief Election Commissioner, contesting candidates and JANIPOP Chairman were interviewed. National dailies also gave front page treatment to the news.

General Comments on the Elections

Apparently polling went on well throughout the country but it could have inspired the voters if eminent personalities were found voting in large numbers. Torrential rain hampered free movement of the voters and affected the turnout in different parts of the country. Considering the age group, the electorate was found quite sensitive and emotional. The poll officials found it difficult to manage such a special group of voters who were highly respected for their role during the liberation war by the community at large. The poll officials had no other choice but to become respectful in handling such voters.

Post election scenario was marred with wide spread allegation of fraud by losing candidates. Stories of anomalies emerged from polling stations which were mostly not observed by JANIPOP Volunteers. Despite such allegations, the Election Commission came up with the unofficial as well as official result of the elections. The Commission also published the gazette with final result. Winning office bearers visited the mausoleum of the Father of the Nation and took over the office. Losing candidates rejected the result, sought appointment of the Chief Patron and Chief Adviser of the Muktijoddha Sangshad who is the Honorable Prime Minister of the country and they had been planning to go to the court of law to get their grievances redressed.

Considering all pros and cons of Pre and Post Election scenario JANIPOP is of the opinion that the Muktijoddha Sangshad Election 2010 was a critical and important event in our national history. Introduction of the practice of electing office bearers in place of nominating them through indirect election is a praiseworthy effort on the part of the Government. However, JANIPOP also thinks that controversy centering the elections could have been averted and the elections could have been held in a more free, fair and impartial manner if the Election Commission concerned was careful and cautious from the very start.

Post Election Recommendations

  • Voters list with photograph should be made available to the poll officials and polling agents in order to avoid impersonation.
  • The ballot box must be translucent.
  • The voter list was not updated; names of freedom fighters still could be found who have died. The list should be up-dated with photograph.
  • The ground floor is more accessible to the old people in wheel chair or to those who need special assistance. So all polling booths should be established in the ground floor with wheel chair access.
  • Possession and production of photo IDs such as national ID card should be made mandatory.
  • Code of Conduct for the Rover and Scouts must be introduced. JANIPOP as an experienced organization can draft the code of conduct for these type of volunteers.
  • The special booth for the disabled was an excellent idea. This idea must be replicated in all the divisions, districts and Upazillas.
  • The Presiding Officer and his/her team must have a megaphone in order to facilitate hearing in a crowded environment.
  • White Board is required to display the candidate’s name and symbol list. The Presiding Officers in most cases were found reading those out which took approximately 7 minutes per ballot paper.
  • Waiting in queue for long time should be reduced and electronic voting system would be one option for the future elections.
  • Cumbersome 11 page ballot papers should be redesigned to a reasonable number of pages if E-Voting cannot be introduced.
  • The freedom fighters whose names were missed in the list should be included in the revised list with photographs. The names of the dead freedom fighters should be deleted from the freedom fighters’ voter list.
  • JANIPOP strongly recommends training of the polling agents in the electoral process.

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