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Local Bangladesh Election Regarded as Key Step in Restoring Democracy

In Bangladesh, local elections held in the country are being described as an important first step in restoring democracy. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, these were the first elections in the country since an army-backed government cancelled national elections and imposed emergency rule last year.

A day after conducting a largely peaceful vote in four cities, Election Commission officials said the polls have sent a positive message that future elections in the country will be free and fair.

Independent election observers from home and overseas have also praised the conduct of the elections.

Monday's elections were held to choose local representatives, and covered only a fraction of Bangladesh's electorate. But they have been closely watched, because they are seen as a test run for national elections which the army-backed government has promised to hold in December to restore democracy.

The head of the independent National Election Observation Council, Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah, says the voting was "fair and credible." He says there was no sign of rigging, fraud or violence that has marred previous elections in the country.

"Compared to past elections in Bangladesh, the regularity of events yesterday was promising for the anticipated December parliamentary elections, and it inspires confidence in the electoral road map and the electoral officials implementing it," he said.

The polls were conducted using a new digital voter list prepared recently after eliminating millions of fake names in the electoral rolls.

Voter turnout was high despite long delays in some places due to confusion over the new identity system. Kalimullah of the National Election Observation Council says the state of emergency did not deter voters.

"We found from the very start, long queues, and those who received their national ID card [identity cards], proud owners of national ID cards for the first time in their lives, ventured out from their homes, and actually rushed to the polling stations," he said.

Election officials say candidates linked to the Awami League party have swept the voting. The government had banned the direct involvement of political parties, but most candidates were backed by national parties. The political parties have been urging the interim government to lift emergency to enable the restoration of democracy.

Bangladesh is due to hold another round of local polls by October. The Election Commission is then expected to announce a schedule for national elections.