Sun. Feb 25th, 2024

Legislative elections in Bangladesh: unsurprising victory for Prime Minister Hasina

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Outgoing Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina after casting her vote in Dhaka on January 7, 2024.

Agence France-Presse

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is heading for a fifth term after winning Sunday's legislative elections, boycotted by the main party ;opposition which denounced a “sham election”.

While Ms. Hasina, in power since 2009, is credited with the meteoric growth in the world's eighth most populous country, once plagued by extreme poverty, her government is accused of serious human rights violations and abuses. ruthless repression of the opposition.

Ms Hasina's ruling party, the Awami League, won more than 50% of the seats in the unicameral parliament, a spokesperson for the electoral commission told AFP, a few hours after the vote closed.

Shortly before, Somoy TV, the largest private television channel in the country of 170 million inhabitants, announced that Hasina was assured of victory, the Awami League having with its allies won at least 60% of the seats in the parliament, after announcing the results of 225 of the 300 seats.

After voting in Dhaka, Sheikh Hasina, 76, called on voters to turn out to the polls, promising free and fair elections.

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She also denounced the boycott of the vote by the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which she described as a terrorist organization.

The BNP, for its part, denounced a sham election. The vote was also boycotted by other parties, decimated like it in recent months by mass arrests.

Among the elected officials of the ruling party is Shakib Al Hasan, captain of the national cricket team, the king sport in the country, according to the media.

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Election officials in Bangladesh began counting ballots on January 7 after polling stations closed. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was assured a fifth mandate, after the boycott led by an opposition party that she described as a “terrorist organization”.

The Awami League had virtually no opponents in the constituencies it contested. But it had failed to present candidates in a few others, apparently to avoid the unicameral Parliament being seen as the instrument of a single party.

The head of the national electoral commission, Habibul Awal, estimated during the day the participation rate at around 40%.

A lot of Bangladeshis interviewed by AFP said they did not vote because the result was a foregone conclusion.

Why would I vote when we have one party participating and the other not?, declared Mohammad Saidur, a 31-year-old rickshaw driver.

We all know who will win, added Farhana Manik, a 27-year-old student.

BNP leader Tarique Rahman denounced possible ballot stuffing.

What took place is not an election, but rather a disgrace to the democratic aspirations of Bangladesh.

A quote from Tarique Rahman, BNP leader

He made the statement on social media from London, where he has lived in exile since 2008, adding that he had seen disturbing photos and videos supporting his accusations.

Many testimonies have reported various inducements, including blackmail, from the authorities to encourage participation.

Some voters claim to have been threatened with confiscation of their government benefit cards, necessary to obtain social benefits, if they refused to vote for the Awami League.

They said since the government is feeding us, we should vote for it, Lal Mia, 64, who is voting in Faridpur district in the center of the country, told AFP.

The BNP and other parties have protested unsuccessfully for months in late 2023 to demand Ms Hasina's resignation and a neutral caretaker government to oversee the elections.Open in full screen mode

Police officers intervene to disperse a crowd during a demonstration in Chittagong, January 7, 2024.

Some 25,000 opposition leaders, including all local BNP leaders, were arrested after these demonstrations, during which several people were killed in clashes with the police, according to the party. The government, for its part, reported 11,000 arrests.

In the east of the country, in Chittagong, police fired on Sunday, without causing any injuries, to disperse around sixty opposition activists who had set up a roadblock to protest against the vote, according to the police.

Nearly 700,000 police and reservists were deployed to maintain order during the vote, and nearly 100,000 soldiers, according to the Election Commission.

Bangladesh security forces have long been accused of excessive use of force, which the government denies.

Since returning to power in 2009, Ms. Hasina has strengthened her control after two elections marred by irregularities and accusations of fraud.

Her economic successes have long supported Sheikh Hasina's popularity. But difficulties have increased recently, with rising prices and widespread power outages.

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