Awami League (AL) supremo and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has secured a third consecutive term with a landslide victory in the country’s general election, Bangladesh’s Election Commission said on Monday, amid the opposition terming the election ‘farcical’ with demand for fresh polls under a neutral caretaker government.
This is an unprecedented feat. No one in the history of the nation, which came into existence in 1971, has managed to win a third consecutive term. AL and its allies have won 288 of the 300 seats for which voting was held. This surpasses all its previous election win tally.
However, Hasina’s victory comes in the face of the opposition Jatiyo Oikyo Front (United Opposition), comprising the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies who won just seven seats, claiming widespread rigging and ballot stuffing. It has condemned the vote as “farcical,” marred by violence and intimidation. Violence broke out in various corners of the country. The Daily Star, a leading Bangladeshi daily, put the death toll at 18.
“We urge the election commission to avoid this farcical result immediately,” BNP leader Kamal Hossain said. “We are demanding that a fresh election is held under a neutral government as early as possible,” he added.
The Left Democratic Alliance (LDA), comprising eight left-leaning political parties, also rejected the election results and demanded fresh polls, Dhaka Tribunereports.
BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told The Daily Star, “Our polling agents were deployed in almost all polling centres but they were driven out by ruling party men and law enforcers.”
AL has been accused of using stuffed ballot boxes. The BBC reported one of the network’s correspondents “saw filled ballot boxes at a polling centre in the port city of Chittagong. The presiding officer declined to comment. Only ruling party polling agents were present at that and several other polling centres in the second-largest city of the country.”
Human Rights Watch South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly took to Twitter: “with serious allegations of voter intimidation, restrictions on opposition polling agents and several candidates seeking a re-poll, there are concerns about the credibility” of the election.
The BNP had boycotted the 2014 polls and decided to contest this year’s polls, knowing that a boycott would wipe the party off completely. AL had broken the back of its main opposition party by jailing former Bangladesh Prime Minister and BNP leader Khaleda Zia for 12 years on corruption charges. Zia’s son, Tarique Rahman, was sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia in October for a plot to assassinate Hasina. He lives in exile in London.
But even then, AL did not take chances with a leaderless BNP, detaining 15,000 of the BNP’s leaders and workers in the run-up to the polls. An estimated 300,000 cases have been filed against the rank and file of the BNP.
The AL organisational machinery, present in all offices and every nook and corner of the country, also flooded the social media space with pro-Hasina content. The Guardianwrites, “Facebook told Associated Press this week it had taken down 15 pages that it said were spreading pro-Hasina fake news in the run up to the poll.”
More than 50 opposition candidates withdrew from the race by noon, making it a one-party affair.
Election observers of India, Nepal, SAARC and Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have, however, endorsed Sunday’s election. The Economic Times says, “Head of the three-member Indian delegation and Chief Election Officer of West Bengal Ariz Aftab said they visited several centres and found that the voting took place in a proper manner and festive mood.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Sheikh Hasina for her victory.
Bangladesh’s parliament has 350 seats. Out of them, elections are held for 300. The remaining 50 are reserved for women and allotted proportional to the overall vote. (Courtesy National Herald)