December 19, 2023
DHAKA – The Election Commission has decided to send ballot papers to all polling centres, except for those in remote and hard-to-reach areas, on the morning of the election day in efforts to increase transparency.
This is for the first time in the history of national election in Bangladesh that ballots would reach voting centres on the polling day. In all previous parliamentary elections, ballot papers were sent to polling stations the day before.
In another development, the EC decided to deploy armed forces for 13 days from December 29 to January 10 across the country to assist the civil administration in holding the January 7 election.
In a circular yesterday, the EC asked all returning officers to take steps to send ballot papers to the centres before voting starts at 8:00am.
At a meeting with election commissioners on October 30, top officials of law enforcement agencies said they were in favour of sending the ballots the day before the election. They said it would be difficult to send those on the voting day for a lack of manpower.
Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, an election commissioner and several EC officials said sending ballots on the election day would not be that difficult a challenge.
They said election officials can use Border Guard Bangladesh and Rab to do the job.
Voting will take place in some 42,250 polling centers this year, EC officials say.
Explaining the decision to send ballots on the voting day, Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal told reporters at the EC office in Dhaka, “There was a demand for this from many, and this will increase transparency.
“The ballots will be sent to as many polling centres as possible on the morning of the polling day. There could be some exceptions in some centres.”
He added that the move would reduce apprehension about voting irregularities.
EC officials said they made the decision to steer clear of allegations and controversies over ballot stuffing at night instead of the polling day, an allegation that tainted the 2018 election.
In past national elections, ballot papers were sent to the polling centres in the afternoon or evening before the polling day. But the matter became contentious after the 2018 election with opposition parties alleging that ballot stuffing took place on the night before the voting day.
Jatiya Oikyafront in January 2019 told the EC that between 30 and 60 percent of the votes were cast on the night before the polling day.
Also in January 2019, Transparency International Bangladesh in a study found that stamping of ballots took place on the night before the election day in more than one centre in 33 constituencies out of the 50 surveyed.
The current EC held a number of by-elections since taking office in February last year, and ballots were sent to the centres on the voting day almost every time.
In the circular, the EC said the returning officers will determine the polling centres located in hilly, haor, baor, char or island areas or areas far from the district or upazila headquarters or metropolitan areas, where ballots may need to be sent before the voting day.
The returning officers will take approval from the EC by December 31 in this regard.
However, most polling officials will have to be present at the polling centres the day before voting in case the ballots reach the centre, the circular says.
Members of the armed forces will be stationed at different “nodal points” and convenient places in every district, upazila and metropolitan area, an EC letter to the principal staff officer of the Armed Forces Division said yesterday.
The letter said armed forces members will be deployed in coordination with the returning officers.
An executive magistrate will accompany the armed forces, the letter said.
Ahead of the December 30, 2018 election, 414 platoons of army and 48 platoons of navy were deployed for eight days from December 24, 2018.
During the 10th parliamentary election, army members was on election duty from December 26, 2013 to January 9, 2014.