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Bangladesh

Church official condemns Bangladesh poll violence

At least 40 have died in clashes between ruling Awami League and rebel candidates during union council elections

Church official condemns Bangladesh poll violence

Voters gather near a polling station ahead of a union council election in Gopalpur in Natore district of northern Bangladesh on Nov. 11. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)

As Bangladesh enters the middle phase of village elections that have claimed 40 lives, a Catholic official has condemned the "sad and alarming" violence.

At least 40 people were killed and hundreds injured in violence in the first two phases of elections to select union council chairpersons across Bangladesh held on June 21 and Nov. 12, according to private election observers.

Media reports say most deaths and injuries occurred from rivalry and fighting between candidates backed by the ruling Awami League and party rebels. Television footage showed groups armed with firearms and machetes preventing rival groups from reaching polling stations, leading to deadly clashes.

Apurbo Mrong, secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission in Mymensingh Diocese, condemned the spate of violence and deaths.

“The government, Election Commission and candidates should take responsibility for violence and deaths during the local government elections. This is really sad and alarming. This does not indicate a healthy democracy but shows that power is bigger than responsibility,” Mrong, an ethnic Garo Catholic, told UCA News.

Mrong also expressed concerns that violence might spill over to the Christian community as Garo Christians will be contesting upcoming elections.

A festive atmosphere prevailed with 60-70 percent voter turnout. There was some violence in some places. We are sad about it

A union council is a grassroots local government body that covers several villages in a district. Bangladesh has 4,571 union councils in 64 civil districts. Elections are held every five years.

Awami League secretary-general Obaidul Quader regretted the deaths but claimed the elections were held in a “festive manner” except for some isolated cases of violence.

“A festive atmosphere prevailed with 60-70 percent voter turnout. There was some violence in some places. We are sad about it,” Quader told the press after the end of polling on Nov. 12.

He urged everyone to be vigilant to prevent such undesired situations and called on the Election Commission and law enforcement agencies to take strong measures to maintain a conducive environment for elections.

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Badiul Alam Majumdar, a political analyst and secretary of Citizens for Good Governance, said violence and deaths in rural elections show the political system and democracy are on a gradual decline in Bangladesh.

Majumdar said union council elections used to be festive occasions as no casualties were reported in 1973, 1977, 1983 and 1992. However, there were 60 deaths in 1988, 31 in 1997, 23 in 2003 and 10 in 2011. The last election in 2016 saw 109 deaths, he said.

“There is no discipline in our political parties. There is no democracy-transparency even within the party. The rebel candidates are in bitter disputes with the nominated candidates of Awami League. Since both have strong influences, no one will compromise. The result is violence and bloodshed,” Majumdar told UCA News.

Awami League candidates won 753 seats in the 1,210 councils that went to the polls in the first two phases.

Most opposition parties including the main Bangladesh Nationalist Party boycotted the elections on allegations of manipulation and rigging.  

A total of 834 union councils held elections in the second phase. Awami League candidates bagged 486 seats, while independent candidates, mostly Awami League rebels, won 330 seats, according to the Election Commission, which said voter turnout was 73 percent.  

The third and fourth phases of polling will take place on Nov. 28 and Dec. 23.

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