BNP policymakers fear their party’s another poor show in the January-30 city polls as it did in Chattogram-8 by-polls for many reasons, including the low turnout of voters and ‘attacks by opponents’.
Besides, the party senior leaders who strongly oppose its joining any election under the current government and the Election Commission (EC) are now questioning the justification of participating in the city polls.
They are mounting pressure on the party policymakers to quit the election race right now.
However, the BNP standing committee members who advocated for participating in the elections think their party would have faced serious criticisms by different quarters and the party’s grassroots had it not joined the important polls like two city corporations.
BNP leaders in a press conference.UNB File Photo
They also said Chattogram by-polls have demonstrated once again that no election under the current government and the EC to be fair, no its mater ballot or electronic voting machine (EVM) being used in it.
The BNP leaders said they are now working out various strategies to ensure the presence of their election agents at every polling station, and encourage voters to go to polling stations to cast their votes braving all the adversities.
They also hinted that they may not join any other election under the current government and EC if the city polls are not held in a fair and credible manner.
Awami League candidate Moslem Uddin Ahmed was unofficially declared elected in the Chattogram-8 by-polls on Monday.
Returning Officer Md Hasanuzzaman said the voter turnout in the election was only 23 percent. The voting was held with EVMs.
At a conference, Sufian alleged that activists of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) drove voters out of polling stations after taking their fingerprints and captured 120 polling centres out of 170 during the polls.
BNP secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said the verdict of voters of the Chattogram-8 constituency was not reflected in the by-polls as they were not allowed to go to polling stations and cast their votes.
He said their party candidate would have won the by-polls had it been held in a fair and credible manner. “The by-polls have proved once again that elections can’t be fair under the current government and the EC.”
Asked whether the Chattogram by-election will have an impact on the city polls, Fakhrul said they have long been talking about irregularities in the polls. “We fear the same scenario can be created in the city polls as the Election Commission has so far not taken any visible step to ensure credible voting.”
He, however, said they are making efforts to convince voters to go to voting centres to cast their votes and put up a resistance against unjust and irregularities.
BNP standing committee member Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury said the ruling party men equipped with arms ‘captured’ all the centres of the Chattogram by-polls and ‘rigged’ votes through EVMs.
He said the ruling party has started taking preparations to take the results of the elections to Dhaka south and north city corporations in its favour in the same fashion. “I myself went to the Election Commission, and they assured us of not arresting our leaders and activists until January 30. But the arrest drives against our party leaders and activists are going on. The ruling party is also trying to create a scary situation ahead of the voting through attacking our leaders and activists and intimidating them.”
BNP standing committee member Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain said the voter turnout was only 23 percent in Monday’s by-polls in Chattogram mainly for two reasons -- obstruction to voters from going to the polling stations and voters’ lack of confidence in EVMs.”
“People think election won’t be fair if it’s held using EVMs. That’s why they’re less interested in exercising their voting rights. It’s a matter of serious concern. If voters don’t go to polling stations how people’s genuine representatives will be elected.”
Mosharraf said the EC should cancel its decision of using EVMs in the city polls to encourage voters to cast their votes.
“We’ve strong doubt that the city polls won’t be fair and voters won’t be allowed to go to voting centres by creating panic among them. As we’re in the race, we’re devising various strategies to overcome all the barriers. We’re working to motivate people to go to polling stations under any circumstances,” he added.
Two BNP standing committee members, wishing anonymity, said the Chattogram by-polls is a wakeup call for their party policymakers to rethink about remaining in the polls race in the capital as they think the voting will be held in the same manner like Monday’s one.
In a surprising turn of events, a man who had gone missing 48 years back, has finally been traced by his children through the Facebook in Beanibazar upazila of Sylhet.
Habibur Rahman, a resident of Khasa village in Beanibazar municipality, remained missing since February, 1972.
Now in his 80s, Habibur Rahman had disappeared leaving behind his wife and four sons. His sons had given up hope of finding their father alive, and used to write ‘late’ before his name.
Talking to UNB, Kefayet Hossain, a grandson of Habibur Rahman, said he found out through the Facebook on Thursday night that his grandfather being treated at Osmani Medical College Hospital.
Surprised by the fact, his family members rushed to the hospital and identified him.
According to Kefayet, his grandfather was admitted to the hospital 3-4 days back as an unidentified patient. Someone in Beanibazar took his picture and posted it on the Facebook which went viral very quickly.
“Grandpa has got one of his arms broken, and will undergo a surgery soon,” Kefayet added.
Nazrul Hossain, a member of Sylhet Zila Parishad and a neighbour of Habibur Rahman, said he had gone missing right after the independence of Bangladesh.
“He couldn’t be traced even after extensive search, and everybody assumed that he had died. During these long 48 years, he never contacted his wife and sons. It will be possible to know the full story once he recovers fully,”Nazrul said.
Habibur’s family members said he is extremely ill and is suffering from memory loss.
During his brief interaction with his family members by the time, Habibur Rahman recalled his past saying that he used to work as a ‘Khadem’ (caretaker) of a shrine at Raisari Bari in Moulvibazar where a woman, Razia Begum, used to take care of him.
Contacted, Razia also admitted that, they said.
Many people are thronging the hospital to see Habibur Rahman.
Currently, he is being treated at Al Haramain Hospital Pvt Ltd in Sylhet.
The World Mosquito Program (WMP) wants to step into Bangladesh with its technology to help the country deal with dengue that caused widespread woes last year, saying that it has a record of successful journeys in a number of countries, including Australia, significantly reducing dengue cases.
“Dengue is a big problem in Australia but it is much bigger problem in many countries including here in Bangladesh,” global public health expert Dr Peter Ryan told UNB during his recent Bangladesh visit.
The WMP currently operates in 12 countries and their method involves using safe and natural bacteria known as “Wolbachia” to prevent transmission of mosquito-borne viral diseases such as dengue, Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever.
Dr Peter, also Director (Business Development) of the WMP, said they are now in talks with the government of Bangladesh to find a sustainable solution to that end.
“Dengue is the world’s fastest growing tropical disease. We know what a serious [problem] it is in Bangladesh. The year 2019 has been the worst year for dengue here in nearly 20 years, with over 100,000 cases and more than 130 deaths,” he said.
Dr Peter said they want to work with the government of Bangladesh and local partners to try and bring the World Mosquito Program’s Wolbachia method to help prevent dengue transmission in Bangladesh.
“Each country we work takes a range of partners. First and foremost, we need the support from the government to do this,” said the expert who has more than 20 years’ experience in public health and specialising in the control of medically important viruses.
He also laid emphasis on talks with the health ministry, city corporations, support of technical partners and independent experts to carefully proceed with the plan. “It really needs careful planning ahead of bringing a technology.”
Candidates of the upcoming mayoral polls in Dhaka South and North City Corporations pledged to make the city free from mosquitoes through planned efforts.
Dr Peter, who works closely with public health agencies in target implementation countries to develop their Wolbachia method to prevent dengue, Zika and other pathogens, said their work is based out of two hubs – Asian hub in Ho Chi Minch City, Vietnam and Oceania Hub at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia – with a third Latin American Hub opening in Panama this year.
He said there is growing evidence that the World Mosquito Program’s Wolbachia-method reduces transmission of mosquito-borne diseases. “Our Wolbachia-carrying mosquitos have reached 4.4 million people in 12 countries and our goal is to reach 100 million people by 2023.”
Dr Peter said a trial in Yogyakarta, Indonesia has shown a 76 percent reduction in dengue cases in the area covered by Wolbachia-carrying mosquitos compared to a predefined control site across the city.
He also said they witnessed a 96 percent reduction in locally-transmitted dengue cases in far North Queensland, Australia eight years after the release of Wolbachia-carrying mosquitos.
The health expert also shared the success stories that had from Brazil and Vietnam saying they hope it could be a tool in Bangladesh in the future.
Responding to a question, Dr Peter said it needs to be applied for a short period of time and it is the most cost effective method in large cities like Dhaka. “Cost will go down with larger operation.”
“We think we’ve tools available to prevent dengue. We recognise bringing a new technology such as Wolbachia needs to be done carefully each country we work,” he said adding that they are also working in India and plans to work in Myanmar, too.
He said they need strong community support, too apart from the government support and they are ready to take suggestions from independent experts.
Before 1970, only nine countries had experienced severe epidemics of dengue fever. Now, the disease is endemic in 100 countries, infecting 400 million people a year and is intensifying rapidly.
The World Mosquito Program is working in partnership with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to investigate the use of self-sustaining Wolbachia bacteria to combat dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases in India.
How Wolbachia Works
The unique innovative approach involves the release of mosquitos carrying Wolbachia, a naturally occurring bacterium and found in 60 percent insects.
Wolbachia does not naturally occur in the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the main transmitter of dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases such as chikungunya, Zika and yellow fever.
Dr Peter said the Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes are released in areas where mosquito-borne viruses are endemic. Once Wolbachia carrying mosquiotos are released, they breed with wild mosquitoes.
Over the time, the percentage of misquotes carrying Wolbachia grows until it remains high without the need for further releases.
The WMP’s self-sustaining method offers a safe, effective and long term solution to reducing the burden of these diseases, said Dr Peter.
Bandarban’s famed ‘Swarna Mandir’ (golden temple) Buddha Dhatu Jadi, one of the largest Theravada Buddhist temples in Bangladesh, draws a large number of visitors throughout the year.
Located on top of a hill nine kilometers off Bandarban town near Balaghata, the temple gives a grand view of the area.
The temple was founded by U Pannya Jota Mahathero in 1995 to provide a prayer spot for the local Marma community. In 2004, the construction was finished, making it one of the largest Hinayana Buddhist temples in South Asia.
Buddha Dhatu Jadi is a shrine of Buddha’s relic (Dhatu) which is considered sacred and worshipped by the Buddhist community. The temple also holds the second largest Buddha statue of the country – an exemplary piece of woodwork done by craftsmen from Myanmar.
With a small entry fee visitors can enjoy the amazing architecture and sight. The temple has motifs and murals in golden texture everywhere including the gates and around the railings of the premise while the topside of the dome is gilded.
Outside the main temple, 12 standing Buddha statues made in different styles have added to the overall aesthetic of the temple. Each statue depicts different ‘Mudra’ to symbolise teachings of Buddhism.
Sitting 1,600 feet above the sea level, this temple is visited frequently by members of the Buddhist community from home and abroad.
Visitors are prohibited from entering the temple after 6pm except for offering prayers
From late January to early February, a fair is arranged at the temple premises. On the night of full moon, the temple is illuminated with thousands of clay lamps as part of Buddhist rituals.
It sees a great number of tourists now compared to early years.
But the growing number of tourists is becoming a matter of concern for the temple as many of them show little to no respect for the sacred site, locals said.
“Some tourists cross the line by disrespecting the relics and statues, forgetting that this is a sacred site,” one of the locals said.
In 2016, the temple was closed for nine months from February to November. According to the administration, they were forced to do it because of the tourists’ misconduct that hurt the sacredness of the shrine.
The situation improved a bit after the security around it was tightened but it reverted to its former state in recent months.
Jobayer Ahmed Shakil, a student of Dhaka University who was visiting the temple, said the grievance of the locals is understandable. He said people should be more careful about not hurting religious sentiments while visiting sacred sites such as the Golden Temple.
“Fortunately, people disrespecting the site are outnumbered by tourists who appreciate it,” a local said.
Friday saw a huge turnout at the ongoing Dhaka International Trade Fair (DITF), bringing some relief for the exhibitors but most visitors complained of unhealthy environment and poor management.
The rush towards DITF on the weekly holiday caused gridlocks in a few places near Sher-e-Bangla Nagar.
Mostak Ahmed, one of the fair-goers, said, “I was stuck in the traffic for a while but I endured it because I won’t be visiting it every day.”
Some visitors said the situation will change once the fair is transferred to Purbachal area.
A relatively large number of people were seen thronging the fair and bargaining with sellers for products.
“There’re more visitors today compared to the last few days, maybe because it’s the start of the weekend ... hopefully, the numbers will keep going up in the coming days,” said Al-Amin, one of the salespersons.
The exhibitors and salespersons, in general, think the improved weather condition and weekly holiday played a key role for an increase in the number of visitors.
Abdullah Arefin, a resident of Tejgaon was seen near the Walton pavilion. “I’m planning to buy a new smartphone and I think I’ll get a good discount here,” he said.
The Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) and Commerce Ministry have been organising the month-long annual fair since 1995.
Poor waste management
Many visitors said they left with unpleasant experiences due to the shortage of space and poor waste management.
Afsana Alam, a housewife visiting the fair with her child, complained about waste left behind by other visitors on the fairgrounds.
“The whole place is strewn with trash. There’re paper cups and food residues everywhere. Authorities should look into the issue,” she said.
Some of the visitors were disgruntled about the violation of smoking prohibition on the fair premises.
Ihsan, a private university student, said cigarettes were being sold near public toilets and the whole place is filled with smoke which is making the already unhygienic sanitary arrangement even worse.
Another hazard that is hurting the visitors’ experience is hawkers with their makeshift unauthorised stalls.
Despite being banned from the fair premises, many hawkers were seen selling various products near the boundaries. It is unclear how they entered the fairgrounds but none of them wanted to talk to the media.
Bappi, one of the visitors, said the whole situation was unfortunate. “We’re not getting any better service in the fair despite a rise in entry fees,” he said. “The authorities concerned should take steps to improve the condition.”