Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina wins fourth straight term as her party secures two-thirds majority in polls

The Bangladesh general elections were marred by sporadic violence and a boycott by the main opposition BNP and its allies

January 07, 2024 11:58 pm | Updated January 08, 2024 07:55 am IST - Dhaka

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina displays the victory symbol after casting her vote in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on January 7, 2024.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina displays the victory symbol after casting her vote in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on January 7, 2024. | Photo Credit: AP

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Sunday secured a record fourth straight term as her Awami League party won two-thirds of the seats in the general elections marred by sporadic violence and a boycott by the main opposition BNP and its allies.

Ms. Hasina’s party won 200 seats in the 300-seat parliament while counting is still underway after the end of the day-long voting on Sunday.

“We can call Awami League winner with the already available results but the final announcement will be made after the end of the counting of votes in the rest of the constituencies,” an election commission spokesman told reporters.

Ms. Hasina won the Gopalganj-3 seat for the eighth time since 1986. She bagged 249,965 votes while her nearest rival M Nizam Uddin Lashkar from the Bangladesh Supreme Party secured just 469 votes.

The 76-year-old leader, who has been ruling the strategically located South Asian nation since 2009, secured a record fourth consecutive term and fifth overall term in the one-sided election, which witnessed a low turnout.

Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader claimed that the people have rejected the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami’s boycott of the election by casting their ballots.

“I sincerely thank those who braved the fear of vandalism, arson, and terrorism to participate in the 12th national parliamentary elections,” Mr. Quader said.

Jatiya Party Chairman GM Quader won the Rangpur-3 seat in the 12th national parliamentary election.

Low voter turnout

According to the initial estimates, the voter turnout was around 40% but the figure could change after the final count, Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal earlier said.

The 2018 general election recorded an overall turnout of more than 80%.

Despite the largely peaceful voting, officials and the mainstream media reported at least 18 arson attacks across the country since late Friday, with 10 of them targeting polling places.

People confront with police during the 12th general election in Chattogram, Bangladesh, on January 7

People confront with police during the 12th general election in Chattogram, Bangladesh, on January 7 | Photo Credit: Reuters

Former premier Khaleda Zia-led Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leaders said the party plans to intensify its anti-government movement through a peaceful public engagement programme from Tuesday as it dubbed the polls as “fake.” The BNP boycotted the 2014 election but joined the one in 2018. This time, they boycotted the polls. Fifteen other political parties also boycotted the election.

The party leaders claimed that the low turnout was evidence that their boycott movement had been successful. They said that peaceful democratic protest programmes will be accelerated, and the people’s right to vote will be established through this programme.

BNP strike

The BNP is observing a 48-hour nationwide general strike which began at 6 a.m. on Saturday and will end at 6 a.m. on Monday. It had called upon voters to shun the election to mark the beginning of an end of what it calls a “fascist government.” Earlier, an election commission spokesman said that other than some sporadic incidents of violence, the voting was largely peaceful in 299 of the 300 constituencies. The Commission suspended polling in one seat because of the death of a candidate.

The election commission cancelled the candidature of a ruling Awami League candidate in northeastern Chattogram at the fag-end of the voting hours as he “scolded and threatened” a police officer.

The usual election-day fervour was nowhere to be seen. Even in front of the election campaign booths, there was no presence of voters except the ruling party-backed supporters and election agents.

Voters cast their votes without any disruption in the absence of long queues, leaving presiding officers with idle time.

Prime Minister Hasina cast her vote at Dhaka City College polling centre soon after the voting started. Her daughter Saima Wazed accompanied her.

She alleged that the opposition BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami alliance does not believe in democracy. “People will vote as they wish. And we were able to create that voting environment. Although the BNP-Jamaat alliance has caused many incidents, including arson attacks,” she told reporters.

India a “trusted friend”

In response to a question, Ms. Hasina said that India is a “trusted friend” of Bangladesh.

“We are very lucky... India is our trusted friend. During our Liberation War, they supported us not only that after 1975, when we lost our whole family — father, mother, brothers, everyone (in a military coup) — and only we two (Hasina and her younger sister Rehana) survived... they gave us shelter. So, we have our best wishes to the people of India,” she told reporters.

In August 1975, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, his wife and their three sons were assassinated in their home by military officers. His daughters Hasina and Rehana survived the purge as they were abroad.

In response to a question on how acceptable the election will be while the BNP is boycotting it, Hasina said that her responsibility is towards the people.

“Whether people accept this election or not it is important to me. So, I don’t care about their (foreign media) acceptance. No matter what did the terrorist party say or not?” she said.

‘Unique’ polls

The 27 political parties that contested the elections include the opposition Jatiya Party. The rest are members of the ruling Awami League-led coalition, which experts dub as “satellite parties.” A total of 119.6 million registered voters were eligible to vote at Sunday’s polls in more than 42,000 polling stations, according to the country’s Election Commission.

More than 1,500 candidates from 27 political parties were contesting in the election, besides 436 independent candidates.

Over 100 foreign observers, including three from India, monitored the 12th general election, which was held under tight security.

More than 7.5 lakh members of law enforcement agencies and security forces were deployed to ensure law and order during the polls.

Former Election Commissioner Brig Gen (retd) Sakhawat Hussain termed Sunday’s polls a unique one compared to the previous two elections.

“This time the election is taking place between candidates from the same party in the name of independents and dummies. As a result, voters are less interested in the polls,” said Mr. Hussain.

“So, it is a unique model election… Results of the election are certain, everybody knows who is going to win. The only uncertain thing is who will be in the opposition bench,” he added.

On Friday, the U.N. Special Rapporteur, Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, said he was “deeply disturbed” by the repressive environment surrounding the polls in Bangladesh.

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