Dhaka, Dec. 30:
Voting began in Bangladesh on Sunday amid tight security following weeks-long campaign that was marred by violence and allegations of a government crackdown on opposition activists. According to the Election Commission, 1,848 candidates are contesting for 299 out of 300 Parliament seats. The polls are being held at 40,183 polling stations.
Tens of thousands of people, including women, stood in long queues outside the polling booths as the voting started at 8 am (local time).
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was the first voter at the Dhaka City College centre in the capital where her lawyer nephew and party candidate Fazle Nur Taposh was a contender.
“People will cast their vote for Awami League to ensure the win of pro-Liberation forces,” Hasina said.
While Hasina is seeking re-election for a fourth term as the prime minister, her rival ex-premier Khalida Zia, who is reportedly partially paralysed, faces an uncertain future in a Dhaka jail.
Over 600,000 security personnel including several thousand soldiers and paramilitary border guards have been deployed across the country to help conduct the election in which 10.41 crore people are eligible to vote.
Security agencies have been asked to keep an extra vigil on religious minority communities as media reports said at least three Hindu households were set on fire by miscreants between December 16 and 26.
Bangladesh’s telecoms regulator also ordered the country’s mobile operators to shut down 3G and 4G services until midnight on Sunday “to prevent the spread of rumours” that could trigger unrest during the election, the 11th since Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan in 1971.