Sheikh Hasina, Khaleda Zia cast vote in Bangladesh polls

December 29th, 2008 - 3:28 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, Dec 29 (IANS) Former Bangladesh prime ministers and rivals Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia cast their votes here Monday in landmark parliamentary elections to bring back a democratic system after almost two years of emergency rule. Both expressed confidence that their respective alliances would come to power.Hasina flashed the traditional victory sign after she exercised her franchise in the forenoon and expressed hope of her nine-party Grand Alliance being voted to power, Star Online reported.

“I’m optimistic about re-establishing democratic practices in the country,” said Hasina, whose boycott January last year contributed to the cancellation of the polls.

“Today is a crucial day in the nation’s life,” the Awami League chief said.

Zia, who heads the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), cast her vote at Adamjee Cantonment School and College polling centre and said: “We have said earlier that the BNP-led alliance will win the election with the mandate of people across the country.”

Hasina cited reports of “irregularities” on the eve of the ninth general election, but urged all to “accept” the verdict and get on with nation-building.

Citing media reports, Hasina said: “Police held two Jama’at-e-Islami (JeI) workers in Cox’s Bazaar (in southeastern Bangladesh) while they were busy buying votes, arrested a presiding officer at Tangail while he was stamping ballot papers ahead of the polls, detained Shamsul Alam’s brother-in-law with Taka 41 lakhs ($61,000) and nabbed Barkatullah Bulu’s cohorts with Taka 70,000 ($1,000).”

The references were to officials of the rival alliance led by her rival Khaleda Zia.

Hasina also quoted from the media several incidents involving “embezzlement and play of ill motives around the polls”, the web site of The Daily Star newspaper said.

Eight activists and supporters of JeI chief Motiur Rahman Nizami, who is contesting for Pabna-1 constituency, were arrested while trying to buy votes early Monday.

Witnesses said the Jamaat men, including Nizami’s former private assistant Shafiqul Islam, were detained at about 2.45 a.m. as they were buying votes at a village under Shathia upazila.

Voting began on schedule at 8 a.m. with a mild winter sun greeting voters in most parts of the country.

This time, 1,555 candidates are contesting 299 seats. Of them, 1,407 are from various political parties while 148 are unaffiliated, according to the Election Commission.

Of the candidates, 60 are women, the highest in the history of general elections in Bangladesh. Over 81 million voters are eligible to cast their votes.

More than 600,000 security personnel, including 40,000 army men, have been deployed countrywide to ensure a peaceful ballot.

Over 200,000 observers, including those from international bodies, NGOs and foreign missions are monitoring the poll. The counting of election results will begin an hour after polling closes.

Bangladesh’s general election was originally scheduled in January 2007. But it was postponed following promulgation of a state of emergency Jan 11, 2007 in the wake of political violence.

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