Bangladesh Awami League wins a bloody and boycotted election

Police clash with opposition activists (Reuters)

Bangladesh‘s ruling Awami League has won a bloody and violent general election with victory inevitable after a boycott by the main opposition party.

Reports indicate that the Awami League has a two-thirds majority, of which less than half the 300 parliamentary seats were contested

At least 18 people died during Sunday’s vote and many more in the run-up. Clashes on Monday killed another three.

Voter attendance appeared to have been very poor, with an estimated 20% reportedly participating.

Officials said that the turnout was low due to the fear of violence and the boycott, which kept many voters away this time.

Sheikh Hasina

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was quick to claim her party had won fairly.

In a news conference she said: “The people have cast their votes spontaneously, upheld the value of democracy and dumped terrorism. We will form our government.”

But domestic and international observers are questioning whether Hasina’s new administration is regarded as legitimate.

The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led a nationwide two-day strike beginning on Saturday after its leader Khaleda Zia urged supporters to “completely boycott” what she described as a “scandalous farce” of an election.

Hasina had ignored the opposition’s demands for her to step down and set up a neutral government to administer the poll.

The BNP has demanded that results be declared null and void, and ordered another two-day general strike which began yesterday.

Turmoil

Violence broke out across the country on Sunday. More than 20 polling stations – majority of them schools – were petrol bombed, and bloody clashes erupted between opposition activists and police.

Reports confirmed that the Awami League won 105 of the 147 contested seats, with allied parties or independent candidates taking the remaining 34.

Polling will be rescheduled in eight constituencies.

Awami League also holds 127 seats that were uncontested, giving it 232 seats in total.

Sworn enemies

BNP’s strike is the most recent in a string of demonstrations by the opposition party and its allies – including Jamaat-e-Islami that has seen a blockade of roads, railways and waterways, and the closure of offices, schools and shops.

During the build-up to the polls, scores of opposition supporters died in police shootings and many commuters were burnt to death by protesters throwing petrol bombs at strike-defying buses.

Bangladeshi elections since 1991 have been held under a neutral caretaker administration to make sure that voting is not rigged.

However, the Awami League eradicated the caretaker system in 2010, arguing that it was no longer necessary.

The ruling government has insisted that the BNP should take part in the election within the existing constitutional framework.

Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia have alternated from government to opposition for almost two decades.  

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