More than 19 lakh voters are going to decide today the outcome of a high-voltage contest between the ruling Awami League and its archrival BNP in the Chattogram City Corporation election amid tight security.
This is the first time the port city polls are being held under party banner and also through electronic voting machines (EVMs).
Though seven mayoral candidates are contesting the polls, the main contest is likely to take place between AL's Rezaul Karim Chowdhury and BNP's Shahadat Hossain.
Voting will start at 8:00am and continue till 4:00pm without any break.
Election observers as well as the city residents will keep their eyes on the polls with 22 AL rebel candidates vying for councillor posts in 22 of the 41 wards. The rebels remain a major concern for the ruling party which could not deter them from contesting the polls despite repeated attempts.
In reality, the local body to be formed through people's mandate will not be able to solve many of the decades-old problems of the the city residents due to constraints on its jurisdiction. Yet, there had been a lot of excitement in the run-up to the polls due to the presence of a large number of AL rebel candidates.
Talking to The Daily Star at his office yesterday, Returning Officer Mohammad Hasanuzzaman said they have taken all measures to hold the local body election in a free and fair manner.
"My appeal to the voters is that they go to the polling centres without any fear and cast ballots for whoever they want. We have taken all-out measures so that voters can return home safely after casting votes."
He warned that stern action will be taken if anyone tries to ruin the election atmosphere.
"We have covered the city corporation area in a security blanket.
"There is no concern over any possible untoward incident during the election."
Despite the assurance, the BNP camp is apprehensive about the holding of a free and fair election. A number of party leaders have alleged that police are harassing and arresting their activists in "false cases".
BNP candidate Shahadat was seen busy yesterday putting pressure on the RO so that law enforcement agencies do not harass his party men involved in election activities.
Around 2:00pm, he went to the Election Commission Office and submitted a written complaint mentioning that 56 of his polling agents without criminal records were arrested in police raids in different areas of the city between Monday night and yesterday morning.
The RO assured him that no polling agents would be barred from entering the centres on the election day.
Talking to reporters later, Shahadat said the arrest of his polling agents just days before the voting day ruined the election atmosphere.
"The government is paving the way for holding a one-sided election through vote rigging."
Members of law enforcement agencies have stoked fear among BNP leaders and activists over the last week by raiding houses of many party loyalists. They are arresting those who are working in the field and do not have any criminal record, he alleged.
"We tried a lot to create a festive atmosphere so that people become interested to go to polling centres and vote, but now panic and fear have set in," he said.
On the other hand, AL candidate Rezaul spent the day with party leaders and activists, having discussions on their tasks on the voting day.
Before leaving his residence around 11.30am, he talked to journalists and expressed satisfaction over the election atmosphere.
Hasanuzzaman said 416 of the 735 polling stations in the city were identified as risky, and 18 members of police and ansar will be deployed in each of those. Besides, 16 members of law enforcement agencies will stand guard at each of the remaining 319 polling centres.
A total of 15,000 members of the BGB, Rab, police and ansar have been deployed all over the port city for holding the election in a free and fair manner.
Moreover, 69 executive and 20 judicial magistrates will carry out election duties in the 41 wards of the city, the RO mentioned.
Earlier in the morning, Hasanuzzaman distributed EVMs and other materials among the presiding officers of different polling centres.
Back in 1994, AL leader ABM Mohiuddin Chowdhury became the first democratically-elected mayor of the port city. He later became CCC mayor for two consecutive terms.
BNP-backed M Manjur Alam was elected mayor in 2010. Then AL-backed AJM Nasir Uddin became mayor in 2015.
The CCC polls were scheduled to be held in March last year. But it had to be deferred due to the Covid pandemic.
The CCC is third among the country's 12 city corporations in terms of number of voters.