The first phase of the country’s fourth Upazila Parishad election begins today (Wednesday) in 97 upazilas. Election will be held to another upazila on February 24 in the same phase.A festive mood is prevailing in almost all polling areas with report of no major untoward incident from anywhere till Tuesday evening. The voting will start at 8:00am and continue till 4:00pm without any break. Today has been declared as a public holiday by the government in the polling areas.The Election Commission (EC) has taken necessary preparations to hold the polls in a free and fair manner in 97 upazilas under 40 districts. The EC has set up 6,995 polling centres and 43,290 polling booths for the polls.Although it is an election of the local government and a non-party one, both the side- the Awami League and the BNP-led alliance- have taken the election seriously, as it is a prestige issue for them. The two sides tried to field single candidates in every upazila, but failed to do so in many cases. The BNP-led alliance is hopeful of victory of the party-backed candidates in majority areas while the AL is also trying to bag the majority. A two-week hectic campaign for the first-phase election ended at midnight on Monday. In order to maintain law and order, the EC has decided to deploy army for five days in each phase of the upazila elections. The army started election duties from Monday in the upazilas, where the elections are going to be held. A platoon comprising 33 members will patrol each upazila. Besides, additional army men and other regular law enforcers will also be deployed in the upazilas as the striking force, the EC said. According to the EC Secretariat, a total of 1,274 candidates are in the race of the first-phase voting in the 98 upazilas. Of them, 432 are vying for the post of chairman while 513 for the post of vice-chairman and 329 for woman vice-chairman post.Altogether 1,732 people had filed their nomination papers. Some of them could not stand scrutiny, while 405 withdrew from the race. Among them, 234 withdrew from chairman, 126 from vice-chairman and 45 from women’s reserved vice-chairman posts.The EC has declared three candidates elected unopposed as vice-chairman. In Kazipur upazila of Sirajganj, the Vice-Chairman has been elected uncontested. Similarly, candidates for women Vice-Chairman at Jazira of Sariatpur and Dupchanchia of Bogra have been elected unopposed. On January 19, the EC announced the schedule for the first phase elections in 102 upazilas in 40 districts, later it postponed polls to four upazilas in Rangpur district due to complications over demarcation of boundaries. The upazilas are Gangachhara, Kawnia, Peergachha and Rangpur sadar. There are 487 upazila parishads across the country. Of those, the EC is going to arrange election to nearly 480 upazila parishads before June. Elections to 117 upazilas will be held on February 27 in the second phase while 83 upazilas on March 15 in the third phase and 92 upazilas on March 23 in the fourth phase.