Bangladesh's PM Hasina wins third straight term, opposition cries foul play

Published 26.01.2019 15:56
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina flashes the peace sign after casting her vote at a polling station, Dhaka, Dec. 30.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina flashes the peace sign after casting her vote at a polling station, Dhaka, Dec. 30.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has won a third straight term, sealing a landslide with almost all the seats in parliament, officials said yesterday, while the opposition rejected the result as rigged and called for a fresh vote.

The unofficial results reported by local TV networks shows that the ruling party-led alliance won 281 out of 299 seats securing a third consecutive victory for Hasina, who has been governing the country since 2008. Out of the 293 results announced, Hasin's Awami League got 259 seats and its ally Jatya Party secured 22 seats in the national parliament while the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) won only 6 seats. To form a government in Bangladesh, a party needs 151 seats in the 350-seat parliament. 300 members of the parliament are elected directly by popular vote while 50 seats are reserved for women.

BNP leader and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia – Hasina's arch rival and a former prime minister - was jailed in February on corruption charges she says were politically motivated. This was the first election in which the BNP campaigned without her. The rivalry between the two women, both related to former leaders, has largely defined Bangladeshi politics for decades. Both sides were hoping to avoid a repeat of 2014, when Zia and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party boycotted elections and voter turnout in the South Asian nation of 160 million was only 22 percent. More than half of the 300 parliamentary seats were uncontested. The Awami League's landslide victory was met with violence that left at least 22 people dead.

On Sunday, some 104 million people in the Muslim-majority country were eligible to vote, including many young, first-time voters. About 600,000 security officials, including army and paramilitary forces, were deployed to contain violence in Bangladesh's 11th general election. The country's telecommunications regulator shut down mobile internet services nationwide to prevent possible protests from organizing. The normally traffic-clogged streets of the capital were largely empty because of a ban on vehicles for everyone except election observers and journalists. Many Dhaka residents had left days earlier to vote in their hometowns.

More than a dozen people were killed in election-related violence on Sunday and the campaign preceding the vote had been dogged by allegations of arrests and jailing of thousands of Hasina's opponents.

Bangladesh's leading English-language newspaper, the Daily Star, said 16 people were killed in 13 districts in election-related violence. In the run-up to the election, activists from both the ruling party and the opposition complained of attacks on supporters and candidates.

On Sunday, The Associated Press received more than 50 calls from people across the country who identified themselves as opposition supporters complaining of intimidation and threats, and being forced to vote in front of ruling party men inside polling booths.

Hasina has expressed confidence in the outcome, inviting election observers and foreign journalists to her official residence yesterday, when the results were expected to be known.

While rights groups have sounded the alarms about the erosion of Bangladesh's democracy, Hasina has promoted a different narrative, highlighting an ambitious economic agenda that has propelled Bangladesh past larger neighbors Pakistan and India by some development measures.

Voters "will give us another opportunity to serve them so that we can maintain our upward trend of development, and take Bangladesh forward as a developing country," Hasina said after casting her ballot along with her daughter and sister in Dhaka.

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