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More die as Bangladesh ruling party claims local elections

Death toll climbs to 12 during disputed vote

More die as Bangladesh ruling party claims local elections

Voting was suspended in nearly six percent of constituencies due to irregularities (photo by Chandan Robert Rebeiro), Dhaka

April 1, 2014

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Two people were killed in Bangladesh on Monday during the final day of local elections, bringing the total death toll to 12 during a contentious election in which victory has been claimed by the ruling Awami League.

Candidates endorsed by the Awami League appeared to have won 225 seats out of 458 confirmed results, with only 29 results yet to come, giving it an unassailable lead over its closest rival the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) which claimed 157.

More than 60 percent of eligible voters turned out for a five-stage local election which has been marred by violence and vote-rigging since polling booths opened in February.

Bangladeshi news reports have shown photos and footage of ruling party officials occupying polling centers, cornering polling officers and stuffing ballot boxes – all illegal under the country’s election laws.

Polling was suspended in nearly six percent of constituencies over irregularities, meaning many areas will have to hold repeat voting.

BNP leader Ruhul Kabir Rizvi said the final result would not represent Bangladeshi public opinion.

“The Awami League has stolen victory by using muscle power and by influencing the administration,” he said. “Now it’s proven that elections can’t be free and fair under the Awami League.”

The opposition BNP and Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami have repeatedly called for the ruling party to set up an independent caretaker administration during a voting season that started with general elections in January.

The government has refused to hand over power to an independent administration, a common practice in Bangladesh in recent years.

Awami League leader Jahangir Kabir Nanak said that despite controversies the vote had been “free, fair and peaceful,” accusing the opposition of spreading false accusations because it had lost.

“We thank the Election Commission for performing their duties properly,” he added.

According to Bangladeshi law, local election candidates are supposed to be independent of party politics due to the huge influence local officials have on the ground across the country.

This year’s vote has been more polarized than ever as the country’s three main parties continue to battle for political control amid widespread violence, strikes and a crackdown on the opposition.

Badibul Alam Majunder, director of Citizens for Good Governance based in Dhaka, accused the Election Commission of failing to stop the country’s main parties from hijacking the recent vote.

“Political parties are not supposed to interfere in local polls but they did so in all the worst possible ways,” he said. “These irregularities are completely unacceptable and have tarnished the country’s democratic system.”

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