Attacks, police cases and arrests have marred campaigning for the Chattogram City Corporation (CCC) polls to be held Wednesday.
According to BNP, 69 party leaders and activists were arrested last week alone. At the same time, more than 1,000 individuals have been accused in over 100 cases – causing the party leaders and activists to go into hiding to avoid arrest.
BNP mayoral candidate for the CCC polls Shahadat Hossen at a press briefing Monday claimed that voters were eagerly waiting to elect BNP.
"But the current administration is working on a plan to snatch victory. As part of their operation, police cases and arrests have created an atmosphere of fear," he claimed.
Like the BNP candidate, voters and councillors were also concerned about the current political climate as campaigning ended on Monday. 41 ward councillors and a mayor will be elected in the polls, and Awami League (AL) contestants will have to fight 32 rebel candidates alongside their BNP opponents.
Both AL and BNP councillors said that though the areas have a festive vibe, voters are afraid as "outsiders have been brought in to snatch the results".
Meantime, the Election Commission (EC) said it had completed preparations for casting the ballots, and election materials were being despatched to the centres. The local administration has charted security measures, and action plans to maintain law and order.
Morshed Akhter Chowdhury, a rebel AL ward councillor candidate at South Kattali, said he is confident of victory, provided elections are fair.
"My rival candidates are causing voters to panic by bringing outsiders into the area," he alleged.
Sarfaraz Kader Rasel, a BNP ward councillor candidate in South Halishahar, said that since the police were continuously harassing him and his supporters, it was quite easy to predict the situation on election day.
"Even after all this, if the Election Commission and law enforcement officers act neutral at least on election day, we can expect a good turnout," he added.
However, AL mayoral candidate M Rezaul Karim Chowdhury has completely dispelled complaints and fears.
He said the BNP is trying to create a cloud of uncertainty over the polls since it senses imminent defeat.
"We are 100% confident about victory. However, it is unlikely that BNP will remain on the field until the end of the election," he noted.
About 12,000 law enforcement officers, including police, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and Ansar members will be deployed to maintain election security. Besides, 69 magistrates will be conducting mobile courts on election day.
Extra security measures at 410 at-risk centres
In the CCC polls, voters will be casting ballots at 735 centres in 41 wards. The Chattogram Metropolitan Police (CMP) has marked 410 polling centres with sizeable voter turnout as high-risk, with concerns over poll violence.
Those centres will have six policemen and 12 Ansar personnel, versus a general polling station will have four policemen and 12 Ansar members.
In addition to this, there will be deployment of police patrols, plainclothes and CMP detectives. The bomb disposal unit, counterterrorism and SWAT members will also be on standby as the striking force.
According to CMP sources, former councillors in 15 wards have been contesting the polls as independent candidates after failing to secure party tickets. Those wards have relatively more challenges in terms of polling environment.
The CMP has drawn up four-tier security arrangements for those areas. CMP Commissioner Saleh Mohammad Tanvir said, "We have mapped it for the security of voters and candidates. We have initiated a zero-tolerance policy on poll violence."
Special surveillance in 20 wards
Taking into consideration their previous poll violence records of election violence and recent events, police sources said that 20 wards will be under special surveillance by law enforcement agencies.
The wards include Firingi Bazar, Saraipara, Pahartali, Lalkhan Bazar, Bakalia and Chandgaon.
Police officials said rebel councillor candidates could instigate violence in those areas. Moreover, a few wards have also been brought under special surveillance given their status as BNP strongholds.
CMP Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police (Public Relations) Abdur Rouf said they were carrying out special raids to arrest miscreants, stop outsiders with ill intent, and seize illegal arms.
Mohammad Hasanuzzaman, regional EC official and in-charge of the returning officer, said, "We do not consider any centre as insignificant or less important. We are committed to maintaining a fair and peaceful atmosphere overall."