Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bangladesh Upazila Election: Update at 7:45 PM BST

According to news agency UNB, upazila polls was held amid some incidents of clash, ballot hijack, arrest; Election to six UZs postponed for troubles before and during polls. CEC was upset about low turn-out. Allegation of influence by a Minister and a MP has also been raised by the Election Commission. BNP has alleged of wide-spred rigging. Here is the full story:

Dhaka, Jan 22 (UNB) - The crucial election to Upazila Parishads was held simultaneously across the country Thursday amid clashes and ballot hijack at a number of polling centers that prompted the Election Commission to call off the polls in six upazilas.

Reports from UNB correspondents in 18 districts said at least 92 people were injured in incidents of poll violence while about 30 others, including election officers, arrested during the polls, held for a third time since the introduction of this system of local administration.

The UNB district correspondents said violence and irregularities occurred in Bhola, Pabna, Chandpur, Barguna, Munshiganj, Comilla, Bagerhat, Khulna, Patuakhali, Sherpur, Brahmanbaria, Laxmipur, Noakhali, Sirajganj, Narayanganj, Mymensingh, Sylhet, Nilphamari and Dhaka’s Keraniganj.

Bera Thana OC Maniruzzaman in Pabna was among 22 people injured in separate clashes in the district while 20 others, including a policeman, two ansar members and a Navy detective, were hurt in a clash in Bhola.

A chairman candidate for Faridpur Sadar Upazila Parishad died of cardiac arrest as he probably couldn’t bear the hassle of hectic work during the polls.

As scheduled, polling started at 8am and continued up to 4 pm without any break.

A total of 73,517,849 voters reportedly cast their votes in 32,356 polling centers under the 480 upazila areas where 3,316 aspirants are in the race for the post of chairman, 2,879 for vice-chairman, and 1,936 woman vice-chairperson.

Fourteen candidates have been elected uncontested, 9 of them as woman vice-chairpersons.

The first election for the Upazila Parishads was held in 1985 and the second in 1990.

The Election Commission postponed election to Dighinala upazila in the Khagrachhari hill district as it found out that a candidate was forced to withdraw from the election race.

The EC also approved the postponement of election to five upazilas for today’s troubles. The UZs are Belkuchi in Sirajganj, Ramganj in Laxmipur, Brahmanbaria Sadar, Ukhia in Cox’s Bazar and Barura in Comilla.

Eventually, today election was held to 475 of the total 481 upazila parishads where the polls were originally scheduled during the past army-led interim regime.

The government announced general holiday today in the election-upazilas (except the areas under six city corporations and cantonment board and unions under Tejgaon circle) so that all can cast their votes.

Some 5 lakh security personnel, including 38,000 members of the armed forces, have been deployed throughout the country for smooth and peaceful holding of the upazila elections.

Successive governments since the restoration of parliamentary democracy in 1991 have kept upazilas dysfunctional either by dissolving the system or by not forming the bodies through elections, violating the constitutional provision that says the state shall encourage local-government institutions.

Most lawmakers of the ruling parties always stood against the system out of a fear of losing control over local development work.

The immediate-past caretaker government brought some significant reforms in the local-government laws regarding its formation and functions to enesure decentralisation of power.

Introduced in an ordinance in 1982 by the then military ruler in efforts to decentralise power, the first election to upazila parishads was held in 1985 and the second in 1990. Since its introduction, conflict between upazila chairmen and local MPs emerged as a major obstacle to strengthening the new system.

The caretaker government made the new upazila parishad law in June 2008, curtailing MPs' authority to interfere in the parishads' activities and returned the jurisdiction of fixing timeframe for the polls to the EC.

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