Hasina heading for landslide win after deadly Bangladesh election day

by Garry Watts December 31, 2018, 2:16
Hasina heading for landslide win after deadly Bangladesh election day

The main opposition party - the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by three-time former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia who is now in prison serving 17 years on corruption charges - said the elections could be rigged in favour of the ruling Awami League.

Ms Hasina's Awami League party easily crossed the 151 seats required to form a government, according to Channel 24, which is compiling results from around the country.

Dr Kamal Hossain-led Oikya Front, in which BNP is the biggest component, rejected the election at 8pm Sunday, terming it a farcical one, and demanded for a fresh election.

Over 600,000 security personnel including several thousand soldiers and paramilitary border guards have been deployed across the country to help conduct the election in which 10.41 crore people are eligible to vote.

At least 13 people have been killed in various regions of Bangladesh in clashes during the parliamentary elections that took place in the country on Sunday, the Bangladeshi outlet The Daily Star informed.

Spokesman Sohel Rana said more than 20 people were injured.

Hasina has been lauded internationally for providing refuge to Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar, but her government is accused of suppressing dissent and jailing critics. Arch-rival Khaleda Zia is serving 17 years in prison on graft charges she says are politically motivated.

The initial trends of the election results which remained marred by violent clashes claiming 18 lives show that Awami League party president and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is all set to be back with a fourth term.

BNP spokesman Syed Moazzem Hossain Alal told reporters there were "irregularities" in 221 of the 300 seats contested.

Voters will have to turn off their mobile phones before entering the centres. "Especially women voters are being forced to vote for the boat", Mr Alal said, referring to the Awami League symbol.

USA funded political observers who were scheduled to visit to monitor elections have been forced to cancel plans due to what Washington said was Bangladesh's "inability to grant credentials and issue visas within the timeframe necessary".

Islam added that authorities may slow down internet speeds on election day in an effort to "prevent the spread of rumours", that could trigger unrest. Channel's chief news editor Fahim Ahmed said private cable operators stopped broadcasting their transmission without giving any reason and "so no one in Bangladesh now can see our channel due to the blackout".

There were so far no official reports of deaths or injuries in the election violence.

Bangladesh Elections
Bangladeshis line up to cast their votes outside a polling station in Dhaka

"The ruling party people were standing outside the polling booth. They also threw indiscriminate punches towards us", photographer Sumon Paul, a close associate of Alam, told AFP.

Bangladesh is a country of 165 million but turnout was reported to be low with the prime minister predicted to win so easily. Almost 1 million security personnel, including army, police and the Border Guard Bangladesh, have already been deployed to ensure security in the election.

Police said they acted "in self-defence" when they fired on opposition supporters who stormed a polling booth, killing one.

In a separate incident, a man was shot by police after he tried to steal a ballot box.

Earlier in the day, Hasina had said that she was confident of winning this election.

The opposition says more than 15,000 of its activists have been detained, crushing its ability to mobilise its grassroots support.

Human Rights Watch and other global groups said the crackdown created a climate of fear which could prevent opposition supporters from casting ballots.

During Sunday's election seven journalists said they were attacked by pro-government activists in separate scuffles, in which a number of them were injured and their equipment vandalised.

Hasina and Khaleda have alternated in power for most of the last three decades and this is the first election the BNP has contested without its leader.

Her government was criticised earlier this year for its heavy handling of weeks of massive student protests over the abolition of job quotas and poor safety standards on Bangladesh's unsafe roads.

The Awami League leader won a landslide victory in 2008 and the BNP boycotted the 2014 election - saying it was not free and fair - gifting her a return to power.

Rights groups have since accused her administration of stifling freedom of speech by toughening a draconian anti-press law and the enforced disappearance of dissenters.

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