Tens of thousands of voters in Bangladesh lined up in bad weather on Monday to cast their ballots in local council elections amid tight security and an ongoing state of Emergency.
About 20,000 police were deployed to polling areas along with more than 5,000 observers to monitor the elections, the Election Commission said.
The local elections in nine towns and four small cities were the first held in Bangladesh since a military-backed interim government, led by Fakhrudidn Ahmed, took power in January 2007 following stalled national polls.
The state of Emergency was imposed after the country's figurehead President Iajuddin Ahmed canceled scheduled parliamentary elections to quell violent protests demanding electoral reforms. Bangladesh's main parties, who initially opposed any elections under emergency rule, said they would observe on Monday's vote as "a test case" ahead of promised national polls later in 2008. Eligible voters were issued identity cards for the first time and electoral lists were prepared with photographs to prevent false voting, the commission said. Nearly 1.4 million citizens were expected to vote on Monday.
Emergency rules that bar public rallies and marches were eased a few days ahead of the polls to allow campaigning. But the regulations were back in force on voting day to ensure security and prevent any violence, Chief Election Commissioner A.T.M. Shamsul Huda said.
Past elections in the South Asian nation have often been marred by violence, intimidation and vote-rigging by rival sides. The interim government which has declared a war on rampant corruption and made efforts to clean up the country's often violent and factional politics has pledged to organize general elections by December.
Dozens of senior politicians, including two former prime ministers, bureaucrats and businessmen have been arrested and face charges of corruption and power abuse.
Bangladesh has a history of political violence and military rule. Two presidents have been assassinated and three military coups have taken place in the South Asian nation of 150 million people since it gained independence from Pakistan in 1971.