The fifth phase of the municipal elections is scheduled to take place on Sunday in 29 municipalities, following allegations that election campaigns were obstructed. Opposition parties' candidates are also worried about whether the polls will be fair.
Candidates from different municipalities expressed their fears at different press conferences. They raised allegations of having been harassed by the police and threatened by ruling party candidates.
Incidents of violence, vote rigging and intimidation were reportedly frequent in the past four phases of municipal elections.
Several independent and BNP-nominated candidates fear the fifth phase election could be a repeat of the earlier phases.
BNP's mayoral candidate from Brahmanbaria Jhahirul Huq observed that voters have no interest in the polls. "Voters are reluctant to come to vote as they fear that they will not be able to cast ballots freely," he said.
BNP's Abddus Samad from Jessore's Keshabpur alleged that the Awami League activists threatened voters not to go to the centres to vote.
BNP's candidate from Bariarhat of Chattogram Didarul Alam Meaji alleged that he was barred while campaigning and his activists were being threatened by the ruling party men not to go to election centres.
He said, "I do not think a free and fair election can be possible under this government."
The Election Commission, however, thinks this time the election will be fair. "We hope that the election will be held in a free, fair, participatory, and festive atmosphere," said EC Secretary Humayun Kabir Khandaker adding that they have taken all kinds measures accordingly.
For this, members of various law enforcement agencies including police, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) have been deployed in different places.
At least 97 mobile teams and 29 striking forces of Police, APBN and Ansar; 100 mobile teams of RAB, two platoons of BGB in each municipality and one platoon of Coast Guard in coastal municipalities have been deployed for election security.
Additionally, to ensure the Electoral Code of Conduct and to control electoral offenses at least 400 executive magistrates have also been deployed.
The ambitious EC secretary said, "Hopefully, we have been able to create an environment for the voters to come for voting…we talked to the returning officers who said that the situation is good."
We are taking action where any irregularity is being found, he added.
Meanwhile, the election was supposed to take place in 31 municipalities but Chattogram's Raozan municipality was dropped as all the candidates have been elected unopposed there. Additionally, Jamalpur's Dewanganj and Jashore municipalities' elections have been postponed by the High Court.
Further, Syedpur municipality has been added from another phase and that is why, in all, polling is going to be held in 29 municipalities. Electronic voting machines (EVM) are being used in all the 625 polling stations of the 29 municipalities.
In this phase, a total of 1,712 candidates will battle for the ballot. Of them, 100 candidates are vying for the mayoral post, 1,270 for councillor posts and 342 for reserved seats.
The municipalities where polls are being held are: Keshabpur of Jashore, Moheshpur and Kaliganj of Jhenaidah, Rangunia, Baraiarhat and Mirsarai of Chattogram, Bhairab of Kishoreganj, Islampur, Madarganj and Jamalpur of Jamalpur, Nandail of Mymensingh, Singair of Manikganj, Kaliganj of Gazipur, Kawnia of Rangpur.
They are also being held in: Charghat and Dhurgapur of Rajshahi, Nachole of Chapainawabganj, Bogura, Joypurhat, Madaripur and Shibchar of Madaripur, Bhola and Charfashion of Bhola, Habiganj, Shahrasti and Matlab of Chandpur, Brahmanbaria, Raipur of Lakshmipur, and Saidpur of Nilphamari.
Earlier, in four phases of municipal elections, polls took place in 203 municipalities. After the fifth phase, nine municipalities will go to polls on 11 April in the sixth phase.