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Late surge in turnout to prop up figure

Manjurul Ahsan, Shahin Akhter, Ferdous Ara and Owasim Uddin Bhuyan

Voter turnout surged during later polling hours in a number of centres of the national elections on Sunday which many believe was part of an attempt by ruling alliance activists to prop up the turnout figure.
The centres where such incident happened were set up at Banani Bidya Niketan, TNT Mahila Mahabidyalay, Jamiya Islamia Madrassa and Orphanage at Dakkhin Khan and BAF Shahin School and College in the capital, according to field accounts of New Age correspondents deployed to the places.
The turnout more than doubled in two of the six polling centres at the Banani school past noon as groups of ruling party activists, aided by the police, moved from one booth to another, indiscriminately stamping ballot papers. In one booth, a polling officer stamped a file of ballot papers.
At the two centers at the TNT girls’ college, the turnout jumped from a paltry 49 and 80 to 734 and 535 as ruling party activists, in police
escort, took over booths, casting out the polling officer and stamped the ballot papers.
At Dakkinkhan, ruling party activists harassed a New Age reporter witnessing the incident and tried to throw him out while polling officers requested him to stay put to ‘save them from danger.’
Turnout at the three centers there jumped from 794 to 1,863 in about an hour and a quarter.
Banani, TNT and Shaheen schools were designated polling centers for the Dhaka 17 constituency with Abdul Latif Mallick of the Jatiya Party (Manju), independent candidate MA Hannan Mridha and SM Abul Kalam Azad of the Bangladesh Nationalist Front contesting.
In all three centres, activists, led by local Awami League leaders, cast votes repeatedly on behalf of the candidate of the BNF party.
At Banani, where seven centers were set up, 2,395 of the total 3,320 votes were cast only in two centers — 65 and 66.
New Age correspondent deployed there saw small groups of people moving from booth to booth casting votes indiscriminately. Local Awami League leaders also cast vote on a number of occasions throughout the day. Polling agents working on behalf of the BNF party also cast vote repeatedly.
At the TNT school about 3:00pm, large groups of men and women suddenly entered the polling booths in police escort and took over it. Polling officers were thrown out of the rooms and some of them were crying talking with the presiding officers.
At the BAF school, voter turnout nearly doubled in the last two hours and the polling officer admitted there had been ‘3–5 per cent’ fake votes.
In the Dhaka 18 constituency, where former home minister Sahara Khatun was competing with Atikur Rahman Nazim of the BNF party, voting was very slow in most centers as the first vote had not been cast in most places before 9.15am to 9.30am.
At the Jamiya Islamia Madrassah, a number of underage people cast their vote showing national identity cards. They were aided by local Awami League leaders, who pushed the polling officers to allow them to cast vote.
The New Age journalist deployed there was harassed by a local leader, who urged and then threatened him to leave the booth.
Despite the last-minute surge, turnout in any of these centres did not exceed 25 per cent.
Similar turnout surge was reported from elsewhere in the city and a number of places in the country.

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