Bangladesh begins tallying votes after local polls (Lead)

August 4th, 2008 - 10:28 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, Aug 4 (DPA) Authorities in Bangladesh began the difficult task Monday of tallying votes in the country’s first local elections in seven years, a historic vote meant to secure lasting peace from political violence in a country bedevilled by uncertainty and terrorism threats. Unconfirmed reports on clashes breaking out between enthusiastic supporters of rival mayoral candidates were heard, but election officials said the incidents were of too minor a nature to cause worries.

Development partners of the disaster prone country said the turnout was a display of mounting enthusiasm on the participation of ordinary voters, many of whom believe Monday’s local election will usher in a new age in largely poverty ridden Bangladesh often marked by political turmoil.

Earlier, thousands of voters queued at heavily guarded polling stations in four cities in Bangladesh to elect mayors in a landmark move to strengthen local government bodies, officials said.

The local elections also covered the polls for electing mayors of nine small towns, polling station officials said.

Earlier, a state of emergency was reinforced in Bangladesh at the weekend ahead of the local elections limited to four metropolitan cities and nine small towns.

The mayoral elections were being held in Sylhet, Khulna, Rajshahi and Barisal cities.

This is the first time in Bangladesh’s volatile history that public polls were held with voters holding identity cards with photographs to check irregularities.

Bangladesh is being governed by an army backed interim government that took over in January 2007 following widespread political violence.

Around 200 top political leaders, including former prime ministers Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, have been detained in an anti-corruption drive.

The interim authorities have failed to contain food prices that nearly doubled over the past year.

Analysts said the failure of the regime to address rising living costs has caused simmering dissatisfaction among most of the 140 million Bangladeshis, many of whom are surviving on as little as $1 a day.

The interim authorities imposed a state of emergency on takeover, cancelling an election due on Jan 2007, and waged a campaign to clean up politics.

The government headed by a former central bank chief Fakhruddin Ahmed has vowed to hold a free and fair national election before the end of this year.

However, the major political parties have asked for the immediate release of the detained former prime ministers and the lifting of emergency rule.

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