Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is set to return to power for an unprecedented third consecutive time after the ruling alliance emerged victorious in the parliamentary elections held on Sunday. The opposition has rejected the results as “farcical” over claims of vote-rigging and called for fresh elections under a neutral caretaker government.
Hasina’s Awami League won 287 of the 298 seats, while the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) managed just seven seats. The Election Commission said it was investigating allegations of vote rigging across the country
Ten things you should know about the Bangladesh elections
1. In the elections held on Sunday, at least 18 people were killed and others injured in clashes between supporters of Awami League and BNP. The election campaign preceding the vote was marred by violence, allegations of the arrest of Hasina’s opponents and threats of intimidation.
2. Kamal Hossain, who led the Opposition alliance, alleged vote-rigging and poll manipulation. “We’ve had bad elections in the past but I must say that it is unprecedented how bad this particular election was. The minimum requirements of a free and fair election are absent,” he said, according to Reuters. Hossain said that a few hours after voting ended, about 100 candidates from the alliance had withdrawn from the race during the day. He said the alliance would hold a meeting on Monday to decide its next course. “Candidates reported witnessing ballot-stuffing and vote-rigging by ruling party activists, who also barred opposition polling agents from voting centres. We call upon the Election Commission to declare this election void and demand a fresh election under a nonpartisan government,” Hossain told reporters.
3. Security was beefed up in the country ahead of the election. Over 6 lakh security personnel, including several thousand soldiers and paramilitary border guards, were deployed at places to ensure law and order. In Dhaka, roads were empty, shops were closed, and mobile Internet services were shut down.
4. The Indian Express visited a half dozen polling stations in the capital during the day, where it could not find any polling agents from the main Opposition party. Agents from all political parties are generally required to be present at the polling centres. The Daily Star, Bangladesh’s leading English daily, and Prothom Alo, the largest Bengali daily, also reported the absence of polling agents at booths across Dhaka.
5. The Election Commission said it would hold a fresh vote for one seat where the poll was marred by violence. Another constituency, where a candidate died days before the election, will also go to the polls in the next few days. Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said on 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 Bangladesh elections.”
6. According to news agency Reuters, the voter turnout in Bangladesh was abysmal. Some voters alleged that ruling party workers had blocked them from entering booths, saying their ballots had already been cast. The Election Commission said it would declare voter turnout figures late on Monday.
7. This was the first time since 2008 that the two major parties, Awami League and BNP, contested the elections. In 2014, the main Opposition BNP boycotted the elections, and 153 out of 300 candidates were elected without a contest.
8. Elections took place for 299 out of 300 seats in Parliament. The Awami League has 234 seats in the outgoing House. The total number of voters is 10.4 crore, but no figures for voter turnouts were available until press time Sunday night.
9. Hasina, who faced anti-incumbency after being in office since 2009 was pitted against a united opposition fighting under the banner of Jatiya Oikya Front (JOF) led by jailed ex-premier Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Jatiya Oikya Front is an alliance of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Hossain-led Jatiya Oikya Prokriya, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, and Nagorik Oikya.
10. Sheikh Hasina’s win consolidated her decade-long rule over Bangladesh. While she is credited with uplifting the economy, critics also accuse her of running an authoritarian regime. She is accused of rampant human rights abuses, a crackdown on the media and suppressing dissent. She denies all charges.