High turnout marks peaceful Bangladesh polls (Roundup)

December 29th, 2008 - 7:51 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, Dec 29 (IANS) Bangladesh seemed poised for a peaceful return to democracy with its much-delayed ninth general election Monday witnessing a high turnout of voters. The balloting was by and large peaceful with stray violence and malpractices reported. Chief Advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed, heading an interim military-backed government, said he looked forward to handing over power to the winner.

Half of around 80 million electorate turned up at polling stations by 2 p.m., and in some places 70 percent voting was recorded. Chief Election Commissioner A.T.M. Shamsul Huda said he hoped the polling could touch a record 75 percent.

Both the contenders for power in this keenly fought election, former prime ministers Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League and Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, said they were confident of winning and forming the next government.

Bangladesh has in the past witnessed the loser boycotting the results and the Jatiya Sangsad (National Assembly).

A cautionary tone was set by the army chief, Gen. Moin U. Ahmed, widely perceived as the caretaker government’s principal prop. He expressed the hope that both the winner and the loser would “work jointly”.

“The voting process has been arranged in such a way that there will be no scope of boycotting the results,” Huda said.

There are over 1,500 foreign and 200,000 local observers to oversee the election process, Huda said, adding: “It will be really difficult for any one not to accept the results.”

Flashing a ‘V’ sign after being among the early ones to cast her vote, Hasina, whose boycott contributed to the cancellation of the election in January last year, urged fellow citizens that the outcome of the poll be accepted by all.

Later, Zia too said whichever party wins the election would form the government. “We have no objection to this,” she added.

Earlier, raising concerns of slow voting rate and “mismanagement”, BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia asked the Election Commission to extend the voting hours beyond 4 p.m.

Awami League chief Hasina listed several reports of electoral malpractices and wanted to know how the election could be called free and fair.

There were reports throughout the day of violence, clashes among the workers, polling being suspended at some places till normalcy returned and even seizure of 22 bombs by the authorities at Chwdogram in Comilla. The involvement of Zia’s BNP cadres and of the Chhatra Shibir, the student wing of Zia’s ally, Jamat-e-Islami, is suspected in the violence.

The electoral malpractices cited by Hasina include attempts to ‘buy’ voters and seizure of large sums of money.

Stung by the charges, Zia told an impromptu media conference: “They (cadres of the four-party alliance) withdrew cash for their personal purposes, including business. But allegations are being brought against them that they are trying to buy votes,” Star Online reported.

People voted to elect representatives in 299 constituencies. Poll was countermanded in one constituency.

Among the international community closely monitoring the poll, the European Union (EU) chief election observer Alexander Lamsdorff said he found a large turnout of enthusiastic people casting their votes in an orderly and peaceful manner in the first three hours without any fear and intimidation.

“We’ll not only observe the polling but also observe the counting of votes, consolidation and announcement of the results. Our observation is not over,” Lamsdorff, a member of the European Parliament, was quoted as saying by the United News of Bangladesh (UNB).

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