Polls marred by low voter turnout and deadly violence
An Awami League candidate leaves a voting center in Lalbagh, Dhaka
The governing Awami League won a landslide victory in Bangladesh in a general election marred by low voter turnout, a boycott of opposition parties and deadly violence by their supporters to foil the polls.
Although final results were yet to be released, the Awami League is believed to have won 234 seats in the 300-seat parliament in the elections on Sunday.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its 20 smaller allies announced a polls boycott after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina refused to make way for an impartial caretaker government to oversee the elections.
The caretaker system was used in four recent polls and became a benchmark for holding free, fair and credible elections, but it was scrapped by the Awami League government in 2011 after the High Court ruled it unconstitutional.
Local media reported a 22 percent voter turnout, a steep decline from the last general election in 2008 when 87 percent voted and the Awami League won a two-thirds majority.
At least 19 people were reportedly killed and 300 hurt including polling and security officials as supporters of the BNP and its fundamentalist ally Jamaat-e-Islami Party attacked polling stations during an ongoing countrywide strike. The Election Commission was forced to close down 440 polling centers early for security concerns, while voting in 147 centers was suspended due to attacks by opposition supporters.
In the northwest Thakurgaon district, opposition activists hacked a polling officer to death on Saturday night.
In Rangpur district, also in the northwest, security officials shot dead two Jamaat supporters as they tried to attack a polling station on Sunday.
Jamaat activists attacked minority Hindus in southwestern Jessore district for turning up to vote. Attackers vandalized about 140 houses in two villages, forcing about 600 villagers to flee their homes.
“We were on election duty when about 250 Jamaat cadres attacked Hindus. We are helping the victims in every possible way we can,” said Emdad Hossian, a police official in Jessore.
Despite the low turnout and widespread criticism for arranging the one-sided polls, Awami League leaders termed the election a “triumph for democracy”.
“I thank the people of Bangladesh as they foiled all conspiracies to vote in the elections. This is a victory for the nation, and for democracy,” Tofail Ahmed, a senior Awami League leader said during a post-polls press briefing in Dhaka on Sunday evening.
Opposition leaders say that people rejected the “farcical polls”.
“The low turnout proves that people have rejected the one-sided farcical election and they have no confidence in the ruling party. The government must cancel the election results immediately and arrange fresh polls,” Mirza Fakhrul Islam, BNP acting secretary-general, said in a statement.
The BNP and its allies have called for a 48-hour countrywide general strike and transport blockade beginning Monday, demanding the cancellation of polls results and a fresh election date.
In terms of fatalities, the election season was the bloodiest in the 43-year history of Bangladesh, which left more than 150 people dead and thousands injured in political violence since polls were announced in October.
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