In first phase, 24 municipalities to vote Monday
A mayor, 12 councillors to be elected in each municipality
Of the registered parties, five participating in the polls though EVMs
In January, 125 more municipalities to hold polls in two phases
20 parties vied in 2015 municipality polls
With intense tension among candidates from the two major political parties and rebel candidates, 24 municipalities go to the polls today in the first phase of the staggered local government elections amid the pandemic.
The tension among BNP and Awami League candidates has been high since the beginning of the election campaign. Besides, worries have intensified since most of the municipalities have rebel candidates from the ruling Awami League, reported The Business Standard's (TBS) district correspondents.
They said there is no lack of interest and enthusiasm among the candidates and voters though the Covid-19 virus is continuing its rounds.
Some candidates are concerned over whether fair voting will take place through electronic voting machines (EVMs). Although there is mock voting before the elections, some locals said they are still confused about casting their ballots via EVMs.
Of the parties registered with the Election Commission (EC), only five – Awami League, BNP, Jatiya Party, Islami Andolan Bangladesh, and Jatiya Ganatantrik Party – are in the contests. They are participating under their political party electoral symbols. Independent candidates are also vying for the municipal offices.
In the meantime, the EC said it has finalised the preparations for the vote, and the voting will be held from 8am to 4pm without a break.
SM Asaduzzaman, EC joint secretary and director (public relations), told TBS that there are 90 mayoral candidates, 848 councillor candidates and 277 candidates for reserved councillor seats in the 24 municipalities.
In each municipality, voters will elect a mayor, three women councillors for reserved seats and nine general councillors.
The municipalities are: Panchagarh, Pirganj in Thakurgaon, Phulbari in Dinajpur, Badarganj in Rangpur, Kurigram, Putia and Katakhali in Rajshahi, Shahjadpur in Sirajganj, Chatmohor in Pabna, Khoksha in Kushtia, Chuadanga, Chalna in Khulna, Betagi in Barguna, Kuakata in Patuakhali, Uzirpur and Bakerganj in Barisal, Gafargaon in Mymensingh, Madan in Netrakona, Manikganj, Dhamrai in Dhaka, Dirai in Sunamganj, Barolekha in Moulvibazar, Shayesthaganj in Habiganj, and Sitakunda in Chattogram.
Although the atmosphere was peaceful in most areas before the polls, there were clashes in some areas over the campaigning of councillor candidates.
One person was killed in a clash between supporters of two councillors on Friday night centering the Kushtia municipal elections. Kushtia Sadar police Officer-in-Charge Abul Kalam said the deceased was identified as Sohel Sarker, 35.
He died in a clash at ward 13 of the municipality around 10pm on Friday.
However, EC Additional Secretary Ashok Kumar Debnath told TBS that they did not receive any complaint.
Voters sceptical about EVMs
Voters in Netrakona's Madan said they are sceptical about voting through the EVM.
Nurjahan Begum, a voter of the municipal election, said she got some ideas about EVM from the candidates. "But I am still confused if I can vote through the machine," she added.
The EVM mock voting was held at Madan's Shaheed Smaranika Pilot Girls' High School Saturday, but there was little response from voters.
Meanwhile, Returning Officer Rafiqul Islam said those working at nine polling stations have been briefed about the use of EVMs.
Most mayoral contestants businessmen, BNP ahead in cases
According to the affidavits of the candidates submitted to the EC, more than half of the candidates more than half of the mayoral candidates vying in the first phase of the polls are businessmen.
The remaining include: farmers, teachers, lawyers, journalists, contractors, and village doctors.
The highest degree holder has a PhD and currently is in teaching. There are also seven people who only can write their names. Both the income and wealth of the ruling Awami League candidates is comparatively higher than that of the BNP candidates.
Meanwhile, out of 23 mayoral candidates of BNP, 14 are accused in police cases. Most of the cases were filed in 2014 and 2015 – before and after the tenth parliamentary elections.
Among the BNP mayoral candidates, Habiganj's Shayesthaganj mayoral candidate FM Oli Ahmed leads in lawsuits with ten cases against him.
January has two phases of polls
There are 329 municipalities in the country. According to the law, the local government body must go to the polls 90 days before the expiration of the current term. In 2015, the first municipality polls were held, after the amendment of the local government law, and 20 parties contested.
In the first phase, polls were supposed to be held in 25 municipalities, but the election in Gazipur's Sreepur was postponed to the second phase as a mayoral candidate died there.
In the second phase, voting will be held in 61 municipalities on 16 January. Of them, voters in 29 municipalities will cast the ballots through EVM, and through ballots in 32 municipalities.
The EC announced the poll schedules for 64 municipalities with 30 January as the election date in the third phase. The rest of the municipalities that will be eligible for elections by February will have voting in the fourth phase.