Like the ongoing countrywide municipality polls, violent clashes, allegations of voting irregularities, kicking out BNP agents of polling centres and low voter turnout marred the Chattogram City Corporation (CCC) elections Wednesday.
Two people died in CCC poll violence Wednesday while 32 injured were admitted to Chattogram Medical College Hospital. They sustained injuries in the clashes mostly between supporters of ruling Awami League (AL) candidates and AL rebel contestants.
The Red Crescent Society said it gave treatment to 137 people who sustained injuries in poll violence.
Supporters of the AL-backed and the party's rebel candidates locked in clashes, chasing and counter-chasing and exchanging gunshots over taking polling centres under control in several areas of Chattogram, including Lalkhan Bazar, Jhatala, Phartoli, Akbar Shah, Bakolia, Muradpur, Baluchara, Patharghata, Fringibazar and Double mooring areas.
However, the Election Commission (EC) on Wednesday afternoon claimed the voting was peaceful except the sporadic violence at two centres.
At the briefing, the commission held voters responsible for the low turnout.
Though seven candidates ran for the mayoral office, the main contest was between Awami League candidate M Rezaul Karim Chowdhury and BNP-backed Shahadat Hossen.
The BNP candidate on Wednesday evening termed the elections "a farce" and said, "It was not against the AL, rather it was kind of against the administration." However, AL mayoral candidate Rezaul Karim Chowdhury said voters' spontaneous turnout made the elections fair and peaceful.
The voting through electronic voting machines (EVM) at 735 polling stations began at 8am and continued until 4pm without any break. Chattogram residents cast ballots to elect a mayor, 39 ward councillors and 14 women councillors from reserved seats.
Though the EC on the eve of the vote said it took all the required preparation to hold the vote peacefully, voting in the port city was not peaceful everywhere.
At around 10:30am, supporters of AL-backed candidate and rebel candidates locked into clashes outside the USEP school centre at Ambagan area of Pahartali area. Alauddin (28) was killed in the clash, and many sustained injuries.
Claiming Alauddin as a supporter, the rebel candidate Mahmudur Rahman blamed supporters of AL picked Wasim Uddin Chowdhury.
Earlier around 8am, AL's student wing Bangladesh Chhatra League activist Nizum Uddin Munna was hacked to death allegedly by his own brother at Diamond Church Community Centre area. The brothers were supporters of two different councillor candidates and the stabbing happened over an altercation.
Out of the total 41 wards, voting war held at 39 wards went to voting since voting at ward 31 was postponed due to the death of a candidate. Ward 18 councillor Harunur Rashid was elected unopposed.
In the meantime, voting in two polling centres were suspended over EVM vandalism and escalating tensions, said CCC polls Returning Officer Mohammad Hasanuzzaman.
Police also detained ward 34 BNP councillor candidate Ismail Hossain, ward 9 AL rebel councillor candidate Zahurul Alam Jasim and Lalkhan Bazar ward Juba League convenor Didarul Alam Masum followed by separate clashes.
Bijoy Basak, deputy police commissioner of Chattogram Metropolitan Police (CMP), said the clashes erupted since more than one candidate from a party vied for the councillor posts.
Earlier, the CMP flagged 417 centres of the total 735 as important or risky.
AL men 'occupy' centres
In a post poll press conference, BNP Standing Committee Member Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury alleged AL occupied more than 500 polling centres.
The ruling party men were also accused of kicking opponents' polling agents out of the centres by BNP and others.
BNP mayoral candidate Shahadat Hossain said even his family members were driven away from the polling centres.
Monowara Begum Moni, a BNP-backed councillor candidate from the reserved seat, said she was barred from casting vote and AL men did not allow her agents at the centres.
Islami Andolan Bangladesh mayoral candidate Jannatul Islam boycotted the polls as the candidate was allegedly barred from casting the ballot. The candidate's agents were also driven away by the ruling party activists.
Morshed Akter Chowdhury, an AL rebel councillor candidate of South Kattali, also boycotted the elections after terming it "a farce".
Both BNP, AL complain to EC
Accusing each other for terror and violence, both the BNP and AL filed complaints with the EC in Dhaka.
On Wednesday noon, BNP central leaders led by BNP Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi filed the complaints to the chief election commissioner.
"We have provided a brief picture of the voting which took place in the first three hours. This is unprecedented - BNP agents have been kicked out, two have died already."
The BNP leader told the press that voters were barred on their way to the polling centres and police could do nothing.
As the BNP left the EC building, AL central committee member Riazul Kabir Kawser turned up.
He alleged BNP men were carrying out attacks on Awami League, and prompted violence in the CCC polls.
"We have witnessed in the last two municipal elections that about 65% of the votes were cast. We thought the voter turnout would increase this time, too," said Kawser.
"But the BNP men have panicked the voters by prompting terrors," he added.
EC blames voters for low turnout
On Wednesday afternoon, Election Commission (EC) Senior Secretary Mohammed Alamgir said the CCC polls were good but the voter turnout was a little lower than expected.
He, however, did not specify the turnout rate.
"The rate was low as people are turning around from their responsibilities to the state. They think: 'Why would I go to vote for someone else? What is the benefit?' Such a mind-set has grown among the people."
The EC secretary said, "This is a common case over voting in most of the developed countries. You will find it in America – they are so advanced, but most people do not go to vote.
"What happened in our country is more like that. This has come with development – the mind-set has changed."