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Saturday, December 14, 2019

288/298: Landslide for Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh polls, Oppn cries foul

The Opposition was quick to reject the outcome and called it “farcical” and called for elections under a neutral caretaker government. Voting at the end of the bitterly-contested campaign for Bangladesh’s 11th Parliamentary election was also marred by violence.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | Dhaka | Updated: January 1, 2019 5:17:45 am
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina flashes a victory sign as she speaks to the media persons after casting her vote. (AP Photo)

Bangladesh’s ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is set for an unprecedented, third consecutive term after winning almost every parliamentary seat in the general elections amid Opposition allegations of intimidation and election rigging.

According to the Bangladesh Election Commission, the Hasina-led ruling coalition won 288 seats of the country’s 300 seats, while the Opposition alliance got seven seats and other parties won three. Of the 300, the EC declared 298 as elections to two seats will be held later. The ruling coalition also bagged more than 80 per cent of votes, making it the strongest government in South Asia.

Hasina’s win is based on her track record of development, as during her 10-year-rule, the country fared quite well on social and economic indicators. “We have a good opportunity to continue with the development of the people, and economic development is very important,” Hasina said after the victory. She also said that she will continue to fight against “terrorism, drugs and corruption”.

According to her, people voted her party to power after evaluating the fruit of development borne in her previous terms. “The countrymen have gained the benefits of the development work of my government, and thus they cast their votes for us,” she told a delegation of foreign journalists and observers at her residence Monday.

“The people are the judge, without a democratic system, we cannot make progress. In democracy, accountability is important,” she said. But, her iron-fisted rule against the Opposition and the media also drew criticism from civil society and rights groups. When asked by The Indian Express that her massive victory has raised questions on the credibility of the polls, she said that the Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) had emerged from a military dictator and the party’s allies, the Jamaat-e-Islami are “war criminals”. “The party is a terrorist organisation,” she said, about Jamaat.

Pointing out that BNP leader and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia was in jail and her son was also a fugitive, she said the Opposition “auctioned tickets”, and they did not campaign. She, however, said that she is the Prime Minister of the country, and not of a party. She said her party had asked for votes on the plank of “development”, and constantly campaigned in favour of the “liberation war spirit”, and against forces of “communalism and fundamentalism”.

The BNP’s decision to give tickets to former Jamaat-e-Islami leaders also backfired, as people had memories of the BNP-Jamaat rule in 2001-2006 when attacks against minorities increased. India is comfortable with her win since it has made considerable gains in ties over the last decade of Hasina’s term. Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated her on the decisive victory, and New Delhi welcomed the outcome.

India’s relationship with the BNP-Jamaat alliance government during 2001-06 was not positive, owing to attacks on Hindus and anti-India activities in the country. The election was also marred by reports of voter intimidation, rigging and “ballot stuffing” – a term used in Bangladesh to denote that ballot boxes have been stuffed with votes even before the polling process has begun. BNP polling agents were also not seen at the voting centres.

The Opposition was quick to reject the outcome and called it “farcical” and called for elections under a neutral caretaker government. Voting at the end of the bitterly-contested campaign for Bangladesh’s 11th Parliamentary election was also marred by violence. At least 18 people were killed in election-related violence across the country Sunday, while reports suggested 200 were injured.

According to the final results, Hasina won with an astounding vote count — 1,000 times more than all her rivals put together. She won 2,29,539 votes and the BNP candidate S M Jilani got only 123 votes, Islami Andolan Bangladesh candidate Mohammed Maruf Sheikh 71 votes, and others only 14 votes.

Jatiyo Oikya Front chief Kamal Hossain said the elections were “farcical”, demanded that they be cancelled, and called for a fresh vote “as soon as possible”. He called it a “vote dakaati” – vote rigging at a massive scale.

BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir described the election as a “mockery”, in which, he alleged, leaders of the ruling party and the police had worked together. “This is the death of democracy,” he said.

Bangladesh Chief Election Commissioner K M Nurul Huda ruled out any scope of holding a fresh election, as demanded by opposition alliance Jatiya Oikya front. Rejecting the allegation of ballot stuffing on the night before the election, the CEC said: “It is completely untrue.”

The ruling coalition went into the polls on the plank of Hasina’s track record of “development”, hoping people will favour the boat (the Awami League’s election symbol) over the Opposition’s paddy sheaf, and return her to power for a third straight term. The Opposition Jatiya Oikya Front (National United Front) was, on the other hand, hopeful that anti-incumbency would catch up with Hasina, and pave the way for the release of Zia from prison.

On Monday, BNP’s sheaf of paddy stood vanquished by Hasina’s boat.

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