Sheikh Hasina's Awami League in Bangladesh has secured a record third term with a landslide victory in a parliamentary election marked by deadly violence and opposition allegations of vote rigging. The Grand Alliance led by the Awami League
under long-serving Prime Minister Hasina won 288 seats out of 298 in the nation's 11th parliamentary polls held Dec. 30. The opposition Jatiya Oikya Front
(National Unity Front), led by Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), won only seven seats. People voted the party back into power because they had benefited from its national development policies, Hasina told foreign journalists and election observers Dec. 31, reported The Daily Star
. The Election Commission (EC) suspended the poll in one constituency due to allegations of irregularities and violence on election day, while voting in another constituency was rescheduled for Jan. 27 due to the death of a candidate. The opposition alliance rejected the announced election results as "farcical". A man injured in political violence being taken to a hospital during Bangladesh national election day in Dhaka on Dec. 30. (ucanews.com photo)
Dr. Kamal Hossain, a prominent lawyer and leader of the opposition alliance, said more than 100 opposition candidates withdrew from the election before the end of voting due to attacks on supporters and vote rigging. "There was an unprecedented vote robbery, which is a mockery of democracy," Hossain, a former Awami League leader and one of the writers of Bangladesh's Constitution, told reporters in Dhaka. "The government has exploited state machinery to suppress opposition and secure a stage-managed victory," he said. "We call upon the Election Commission to declare the election void and demand a fresh election under a non-partisan government." The EC claimed voter turnout was about 80 percent, the highest in decades. There were some 104 million eligible voters in this South Asian Muslim-majority nation of more than 160 million.
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The election was marred by violence between rival political parties that saw 17 people, mostly political activists, killed. Many others were injured. Local media reported irregularities such as the stuffing of ballot boxes by ruling party activists, attacks on opposition supporters and the intimidation of opposition polling agents, as well as voters, across the country. The EC had to suspend voting in 22 of 40,000 electoral centers. Bishop Gervas Rozario, vice-president of Catholic Bishops Conference of Bangladesh, said that despite incidents of violence and irregularities, the election was relatively fair. While denouncing abuses, he noted that, overall, foreign election observers were positive about the way the election was conducted. "The new government needs to work for all people, in order to ensure their basic rights in line with their pre-election promises," the prelate added. "The opposition should take lessons from their mistakes, keep ties with people and prepare grounds for future elections." Dr. Shantanu Majumder
, associate professor of Political Science at Dhaka University, said the huge win for ruling party was both good and bad news for democracy in Bangladesh. "The parliament will have no effective opposition, which is not only bad for losing parties but also for democracy, because there is the risk of having no 'checks and balances' for the government," he said. "On the other hand, the ruling party has golden opportunities to do great things for people. What they do remains to be seen." A woman shows a blue mark on thumb after casting her vote during Bangladesh’s national election in Dhaka. (ucanews.com photo)
This year's election saw 18 candidates from religious and ethnic minority groups, all from the ruling alliance, elected to the parliament. Jewel Areng, an indigenous Garo and Catholic, is the only Christian in the new parliament. In its electoral manifesto, the Awami League pledged formation of a special minorities commission to oversee protection of their rights. Rana Dasgupta, secretary of Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, the largest minority forum, called on the government to keep promises made to minorities. "About 10 percent of the population hails from religious and ethnic minority groups, who are often vulnerable to discrimination and abuses in the absence of protective laws and bodies," he said. He added that the new government should crack down on communal and religious intolerance.