Long queues of voters lined up for the Gazipur City Corporation election and voting went ahead peacefully.
The Election Commission monitored the polls through CCTV cameras as the voting across 480 centres started at 8 am through electronic voting machines on Thursday.
Around 50 percent of the voters cast their ballots in the first six hours of voting in the election, according to the Office of the Returning Officer. About 1.17 million people were expected to cast votes in the city election, a closely watched race.
Manzur Hossain Khan, the assistant returning officer, said: “From what we’ve gathered, around 50 percent of the voters have cast their ballots in the first six hours until 2 pm.
People thronged some centres long before the voting opened. As the day progressed, there were some reports of agents being forced out of centres, the presence of unwanted people in voting rooms, CCTV cameras breaking down and EVMs going slow at some centres.
The Awami League and independent candidates, along with voters, complained that voting machines were slow in some centres.
The Election Commission said it took steps to swiftly resolve the technical and disciplinary issues.
The start of voting at Tongi’s Darussalam was delayed by 43 minutes due to issues with EVMs and voters complained about the proceeding being ‘very slow’.
Krishna Roy, who arrived at 7 am to cast his ballot, said: “I’m standing in a queue for two and a half hours. I haven’t even eaten breakfast. The line is moving very slowly.”
Later, the centre’s presiding officer Md Zakir Hasan Talukder said a technical team arrived and fixed the problem. “Voting is in full swing now and there are no issues anymore.”
Awami League candidate Azmat Ullah Khan, who cast his vote at the centre, was content with how things were moving along but he, too, mentioned the slow proceedings. He also pointed out that his brother had issues with casting his ballot.
“My brother went home to bring his smart card since his fingerprint didn’t match. I’ve listened to what many people had to say and hope the commission will let everyone in the queue cast their ballots.”
Shahnoor Islam Rony, a BNP leader’s son who joined the race as an independent candidate, appeared happy after casting his ballot. He said he had not noticed anything problematic either.
Rony, however, mentioned that his agents were being intimidated. “Many of my agents are leaving the centres. They’re actually afraid of going in. They’ve been intimidated for three to four days.”
Election Commissioner Md Alamgir, who observed the voting process through CCTV cameras along with his colleagues, said: “The voting is progressing in a disciplined fashion from what we saw on CCTV cameras.”
“No trouble was reported yet. The judicial and executive magistrates were very active.”
He added that ‘proper steps’ were taken over complaints of ousting agents and issues with slow EVMs. Alamgir also said that the cameras were non-functional in some places due to a lack of internet connection.
“But they are recording and we are getting information and footage. About 10-12 units were down in the morning. But most of them are visible now.”
At least two persons were arrested after they were seen interfering with voting in the secret room through CCTV monitoring, but there were no instances of voters being forced or influenced.
Along with electing the new mayor, the third Gazipur city poll will also determine 57 councillors and 19 women councillors for reserved seats. More than 330 candidates contested for the general and reserved councillor seats.
After the voting closed on Thursday, Azmat said people cast their ballots in a ‘festive atmosphere’. He was optimistic about winning the race.
Mayoral candidate Zayeda Khatun, who is in the race instead of his son Zahangir Alam -- a sacked ruling party leader -- also praised the voting atmosphere.
However, Zahangir alleged that voters were being pressured to vote for the Awami League at some centres.
The Election Commission said it was pleased with the voting in Gazipur. “You’ve seen the voting was free and fair. The candidates, especially the mayoral ones, said they are very much satisfied with the voting environment,” Commissioner Alamgir said after the end of voting.
He said the turnout was estimated to be at least 50 percent.
Alamgir credited CCTV cameras for preventing irregularities. “There were more than 4,000 CCTV cameras. It’s not possible to monitor all of them. But we’ve taken action against the criminals who were spotted.
“But many of them were afraid of committing crimes due to the CCTV cameras. This is our success.”
RAB, POLICE CLASH WITH ‘BCL ACTIVISTS’
Minutes before the end of voting, a group of youths sought to enter Kazi Azimuddin College centre.
Some voters said the youths were led by ‘Ershad’, a former president of the Gazipur Metropolitan unit of Bangladesh Chhatra League, and they were working for councillor candidate Alamgir Morol.
As the police barred the youths from entering the centre, they became agitated.
The RAB and the police used batons to drive them out, prompting the young men to throw brickbats at the law enforcers. The clashes lasted for around 10 minutes.
At least 30 voters were still waiting to cast their ballots outside the centre half an hour after the end of voting time.
Earlier, voters complained about “hours of wait” due to a glitch in EVMs.
One of them, Abdul Quader Nantu, left the centre without voting after a long wait. “I have work to do,” he said.
Presiding Officer Nasir Uddin said one machine was inoperational for around an hour.