Voter turnout 8 percent less than 2008

In each of the four cities where corporation polls took place last Saturday, the number of cancelled votes were more than those secured by Mayor candidates who ended up third.Though the number of voters have gained in the past five years, the average turnout plummeted by almost nine percent in the four cities of Rajshahi, Sylhet, Khulna and Barisal.
Obviously, the winning BNP-backed candidates and the nearest Awami League-backed challengers bagged the first two positions in votes secured.
It is telling comment on the nature of Bangladesh’s polarised politics where most voters exercise their franchise in favour of either the Awami League or the BNP and a third option is not even visible in the distant horizon.
So much so that the number of cancelled votes in each of the four cities tops that secured by non-BNP or non-Awami League candidates.
The Election Commission had announced 13,586 votes cancelled this time – 1,000 more than in the 2008 Mayor elections in these four cities.
Rajshahi witnessed a 76 percent turnout, out of which 2,733 votes were cancelled. The third place candidate in the Mayor elections got a mere 791 votes.
In Khulna, of the 307,467 votes cast, 4,876 votes were cancelled. The third place candidate for the Mayor election got a mere 3,076 votes.
In Barisal, 155,126 voters exercised their franchise and 2,827 votes cancelled. The third place candidate got only 1,807 votes.
In Sylhet, 183,673 voters joined the polls and 3,148 votes were cancelled. The third place candidate got 1,022 votes.
The percentage turnout in the city polls was much less than in 2008.
Though the Election Commission expressed satisfaction at the turnout, former Election Commissioner M Sakhawat Hossain thought otherwise.
He said only 70.64 percent of the electorate exercised their franchise in Saturday’s polls to four city corporations against a 78.74 percent turnout in these city polls five years ago.
But present Election Commissioner Abu Hafiz said that the last elections took place during the rule of caretaker government. “At that time, people were eager to vote. They were longing to bring back an elected government.”
He also identified long gap between voting, inclusion of a large number of fresh voters and introduction fo voter identity cards with photo to have contributed to high turnout in 2008, which was not the case now.
The official said he thought a 70 percent turnout was ‘satisfactory’ during a democratic government.
In 2008, there were 1,093,930 voters in the four cities, of which 861,401 exercised their franchise.
During Saturday’s city polls, 864,576 voters turned up out of 1,229,161 on the list.
This time, BNP-supported candidates won the Mayor polls in all the cities. All the four Awami League-supported former Mayors were defeated.
Former Mayors — Rajshahi’s AHM Khairuzzaman Liton, Khulna’s Talukder Abdul Khaleque, Barisal’s Shawkat Hossain Hiran and Sylhet’s Badr Uddin Ahmad Kamran – got about 40 percent of the total votes cast.
On the other hand, the victors — Ariful Haque Chowdhury of Sylhet, Barisal’s Ahsan Habib Kamal, Rajshahi’s Mossaddeque Hossain Bulbul and Khulna’s Maniruzzaman Mani – netted about 59 percent of the total votes cast.
But third place candidates – former Jamaat-e-Islami activist Habibur Rahman in Rajshahi, Jatiya Party’s (A) leader Shafiqul Islam Madhu, ousted Juba League leader Mahmudul Haque Khan in Barisal and businessman Salah Uddin Riman – could manage a mere 6,696 votes between themselves which was less than the number of votes cancelled.
The cancellations however would not have made a difference to the ultimate result because the BNP-supported candidates won by a comfortable margins ranging from 17,000 to 70,000 votes.
The highest turnout was in Rajshahi, the lowest in Sylhet.
Regarding the low turnout in Sylhet, Assistant Returning Officer Munir Hossain said that most residents of the city were expatriates living abroad. “A good number could not return to vote.”
Former Election Commissioner M Sakhawat Hossain said voter turnout would have been higher if the army was deployed to provide security during the polls.
“Voters were fearing chaos. Both Sylhet candidates said they were in fear of their lives.”
Hossain said there was “excessive politicisation” in these elections ahead of the national polls. “That is why there has been a fall in the number of neutral voters.”

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