“Fake” elections in Bangladesh keep Sheikh Hasina in power

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“Fake” elections in Bangladesh keep Sheikh Hasina in power

DHAKA: Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has won re-election for the fifth time, following an opposition boycott, with her party winning at least half of the seats and counting continuing, an election official said.

“The ruling Awami League party has won more than 50 percent of the seats,” an Election Commission spokesperson said.

However, election officials were still counting votes Sunday when the official declared her the winner amid a boycott of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which she called a “terrorist organization.”

Hasina’s government has been accused of rampant human rights abuses and a ruthless repression of the opposition. Her party faced almost no effective challengers in the seats she contested, but it avoided fielding candidates in a few electoral districts, an apparent effort to avoid the legislature being branded a one-party institution. The opposition BNP, whose ranks have been decimated by mass arrests, called a general strike and urged the public not to take part in what it called a “sham” election.
But Hasina, 76, called on citizens to show faith in the democratic process. “The BNP is a terrorist organization,” she told reporters after casting her vote. “I am doing everything I can to ensure that democracy continues in this country.”

‘Why would I go vote?’  elections

Results are expected on Monday (today) morning, and television channels will broadcast the first counts from several polling stations that will put the ruling party candidates ahead.

Chief Election Commissioner Habibul Awal told reporters that turnout, according to preliminary figures, was around 40 percent.

There were widespread reports of carrot-and-stick incentives to encourage participation with the goal of bolstering the legitimacy of the elections.

BNP president Tarique Rahman, speaking from Britain, where he lives in exile, said he was concerned about vote stuffing. “I fear that the electoral commission could increase voter turnout by using fake votes,” he told AFP.

Many said they had not voted because the result was assured. “When one party participates and another does not, why would I go and vote?” said Mohammad Saidur, 31, who drives a rickshaw.

“We all know who is going to win,” said Farhana Manik, a 27-year-old student.

Some voters previously said they had been threatened with confiscation of government benefit cards needed to access welfare payments if they refused to vote for the ruling Awami League.

“They said that since the government feeds us, we have to vote for them,” Lal Mia, 64, told AFP in the central district of Faridpur.

Fear of “new repressive measures” elections

The BNP and other parties staged months of protests last year, demanding that Hasina resign before the vote.

Officers in the port city of Chittagong broke up an opposition protest on Sunday, firing shotguns and tear gas canisters, but election officials said the vote was largely peaceful, with nearly 800,000 police and soldiers deployed across the country.

Meenakshi Ganguly of Human Rights Watch said on Sunday that the government had failed to assure opposition supporters that the elections would be fair, and warned that “many fear further repression.”

Politics in the world’s eighth most populous country has long been dominated by rivalry between Hasina, daughter of the country’s founding leader, and two-time prime minister Khaleda Zia, wife of a former military ruler.

Hasina has been the decisive victor since she returned to power in a landslide in 2009, with two subsequent elections accompanied by widespread irregularities and accusations of rigging.

Ms Zia, 78, was convicted of corruption in 2018 and is now in poor health in a Dhaka hospital, with her son Tarique Rahman leading the BNP in her place from London.

Rahman told AFP that his party, along with dozens of others, had refused to participate in a “fake election”.

Hasina accused the BNP of arson and sabotage during last year’s protest campaign, which was mostly peaceful but saw several people killed in police clashes.

Government security forces have been dogged by accusations of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances, accusations she rejects.

The United States, the largest export market for the South Asian nation of 170 million people, has imposed sanctions on an elite police unit and its top commanders.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Hasina votes in general election boycotted by her opponents

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina cast her vote Sunday shortly after polls opened in a general election boycotted by the main opposition party and that will give the ruling alliance, led by the Awami League, a quarter consecutive term in power.

At least four people died Friday night in a fire on a passenger train that the government called an arson attack, after several polling stations, schools and a Buddhist monastery were set on fire days before the election.

However, there were no reports of violence on voting day as nearly 800,000 security forces guard polling stations, assisted by troops across the country.

Accompanied by her daughter and other members of her family, Hasina voted at City College in the capital, Dhaka, minutes after the elections began at 8:00 a.m. (02:00 GMT). The election will last eight hours, followed by the counting of votes, with initial results expected early Monday.

“I am doing everything I can to ensure that democracy continues in this country.”

Human rights groups have warned that the country of 170 million people is heading towards a virtually one-party government following a boycott by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and some smaller allies.

The United States and Western nations, key customers of its textile industry, have called for a free and fair election, the 12th since Pakistan’s independence in 1971.

Some 120 million voters will choose from nearly 2,000 candidates for 300 directly elected parliamentary seats. There are 436 independent candidates, the most since 2001.

Voter turnout was low for the first few hours amid the cold and fog of a winter morning, but increased as the day progressed with people queuing outside voting booths, according to Reuters witnesses.

“Prime Minister Hasina has done a lot for the country. I will vote for her party,” said Anowar Hossain, 55, as he walked back home after buying vegetables at a nearby market in Dhaka.

University professor Zayeda Begum, 55, was among dozens of women at a polling station in the capital. She said that she was happy with Bangladesh’s progress and added that she had voted for the ruling party.

The opposition BNP, whose top leaders are in prison or in exile, says the Awami League has propped up “dummy” candidates such as independents to try to make the election look credible, a claim the ruling party denies.

elections
elections

The BNP, which also boycotted the 2014 elections although it participated in 2018, asked people to avoid Sunday’s elections and called for a two-day strike across the country starting Saturday.

Hasina, who rejected BNP demands that she resign and hand over power to a neutral authority to run the elections, accuses the opposition of instigating anti-government protests that have rocked Dhaka since late October, killing at least 14 people.

Hasina said she did not need to prove to anyone the credibility of the elections. “The important thing is whether the people of Bangladesh will accept these elections.”

In her last 15 years in power, Hasina, 76, is credited with transforming Bangladesh’s economy and textile industry. But her critics have also accused her of authoritarianism, human rights violations, suppression of free speech and repression of dissent.

The economy has slowed sharply since the war between Russia and Ukraine drove up prices for fuel and food imports, forcing Bangladesh to turn to the International Monetary Fund last year for a $4.7 billion bailout

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