Campaigning for the election ended yesterday as the country prepared to elect its second government in less than five months. A complete ban on political rallies and speeches came into force at midnight, 24 hours ahead of polling day to ensure free and fair elections, officials said. Amid the traffic chaos of overcrowded Dhaka, tens of thousands of marchers carried banners through the streets and shouted political slogans supporting each of the main parties contesting the elections. 'The apprehension so characteristic of the last election has vanished altogether this time around,' said a Western diplomat. 'There's a great deal of faith in the neutrality of the caretaker administration here and that has produced a new enthusiasm for politics among the people.' General elections in February were boycotted by the main opposition parties. A low turnout of less than five per cent of Bangladesh's 60 million voters, coupled with widespread ballot rigging left the incumbent prime minister, Begum Khaleda Zia, of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, in charge of a discredited administration, said Dhaka political analysts. The new polls are being held under a neutral caretaker administration and will be monitored by more than 300 observers, in a bid keep the polls free and fair. 'We are determined this time to ensure polls are free and open and seen to be so by the international community,' said Chief Election Commissioner Mohammad Abu Hena. 'A total of 400,000 police and paramilitaries have been placed on full alert around the country, backed up by 40,000 troops, who will respond to any violence.' The Supreme Court stayed a lower court order yesterday and effectively barred jailed former president, General H. M. Ershad, from giving a televised, pre-poll campaign speech.