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Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina set for landslide win as opposition demands new vote

Sunday 30 December 2018, by siawi3


Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina set for landslide win as opposition demands new vote


Updated December 30, 2018

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was heading for a landslide win in a general election on Sunday that was marred by opposition claims of vote-rigging and violence between rival supporters that killed at least 17 people.

Hasina’s ruling Awami League party easily crossed the 151 seats required to form a majority government, according to local TV station Channel 24, which is compiling results from around the country.

As midnight approached, the Awami League and its allies had won 191 seats — some by tens of thousands of votes — while the opposition coalition had only five, the channel said.

The alliance running against Hasina, led by the main opposition Bangladesh National Party, branded the vote “farcical†and urged the country’s election commission to void the results.
Bangladeshi army personnel drive a military vehicle through a street adorned with election posters near a polling station in Dhaka. — AFP

“We are demanding that a fresh election is held under a neutral government as early as possible,†Kamal Hossain, who heads the coalition, told reporters.

The deadly violence and bitter rivalry that marred the election campaign spilled over into voting day, even as authorities imposed tight security with 600,000 troops, police and other security forces deployed across the country.

Thirteen people were killed in clashes between Awami League and BNP supporters, police said, while three men were shot by police who said they were protecting polling booths.

An auxiliary police member was also killed by armed opposition activists, according to officials.

Hasina, 71, has been lauded for boosting economic growth in the poor South Asian nation during her decade in power and for welcoming Rohingya refugees fleeing a military crackdown in neighbouring Myanmar.
A Bangladeshi voter (r) interacts with the polling personnel as others wait in line to cast their vote at a polling station located in a gymnasium in Dhaka. — AFP

But critics accuse her of authoritarianism and crippling the opposition — including arch-rival and BNP leader Khaleda Zia who is serving 17 years in prison on graft charges — to cling on to power.

The BNP-led opposition alliance on Sunday accused Hasina’s party of using stuffed ballot boxes and other illegal means to fix the result, which was to be officially announced by the election commission on Monday.

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

“Voters are not allowed to enter booths. Especially women voters are being forced to vote for the boat,†Alal said, referring to the Awami League symbol.
’We’ll cast your vote’

Bangladesh election commission spokesman S.M. Asaduzzaman told AFP the body had “received a few allegations of irregularities†and was investigating.

Hasina did not immediately respond to the accusations but said in the run-up to the vote that it would be free and fair.

Voting in the capital Dhaka was largely peaceful as convoys of soldiers and paramilitary forces were on the streets where most traffic was banned.

However, voters in provincial areas reported intimidation.

Atiar Rahman said he was beaten by ruling party activists in the central district of Narayanganj. “They told me not to bother, ’We’ll cast your vote on your behalf’,†he told AFP.

The opposition said the unrest was stirred up to deter voters, and presiding officers reported a low turnout across the country.

Sunday’s deaths brought to 21 the official police toll for election violence since the ballot was announced on November 8.

Police said they acted “in self-defence†when they fired on opposition supporters who stormed a polling booth, killing one. A man was also shot by police after he tried to steal a ballot box.
Free and fair?

Experts say a Hasina victory would be sullied by accusations that she hamstrung opponents.

The opposition claims more than 15,000 of its activists were detained during the campaign, crushing its ability to mobilise support.

Seventeen opposition candidates were arrested over what they claim are trumped-up charges while another 17 were disqualified from running by courts, which Hasina’s opponents say are government controlled.

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

The United States raised concerns about the credibility of the election while the United Nations called for greater efforts to make the vote fair.

The leadership of Bangladesh has alternated between Hasina and Zia, allies-turned-foes, over the last three decades.

Hasina, daughter of Bangladesh’s first president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was gifted victory in the 2014 election when the BNP boycotted the vote claiming it was not free and fair.

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.

Hasina rejects accusations of authoritarianism but analysts say she feared young voters would support the BNP.

Her government was criticised this year for its heavy handling of weeks of major student protests that brought Dhaka to a standstill.



Hasina ’wins Bangladesh elections’ as opposition rejects polls

Unofficial results show PM Sheikh Hasina’s party wins polls marred by deadly clashes, opposition claims of vote rigging.

by Saif Khalid

30.12.18 39 minutes ago

Hasina ’wins Bangladesh elections’ as opposition rejects polls

Photo: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina cast her vote in the morning during the election in Dhaka [Sangbad Sangstha/Reuters]

Dhaka, Bangladesh - Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League (AL) party won Sunday’s parliamentary election, according to unofficial results reported by local media, after the main opposition alliance rejected the violence-marred polls.

Within hours of the counting of the votes, Bangladesh’s ruling party surged ahead - an outcome the opposition alliance had feared.

In a hurriedly called news conference on Sunday night, the leader of the Jatiya Oikya Front - the main opposition alliance - dubbed the election “farcical”.

“We reject the farcical election and want the election commission to hold a fresh election under a non-partisan administration,” said Kamal Hossain, an 82-year-old jurist who wrote the country’s secular constitution.

According to unofficial results reported by local TV networks, the ruling party had won 170 seats. A party needs 151 seats to form a government.

The Bangladeshi Nationalist Party-led alliance (BNP) managed to win just six seats out of 300 up for grabs in the 350-member parliament, or Jatiya Sangshad. Fifty seats are reserved for women.

Out of the 27 results announced, the ruling Grand Alliance won 21 while one seat went to the opposition, according to the election commission. The final results are likely to be announced by the election commission on Monday.
Fourth term

Hasina, who has headed the AL since 1981, went into the polls on the back of a decade of impressive GDP growth and booming garment exports. Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest exporter of garments after China.

The 71-year-old leader is set for a record fourth term in office in the South Asian Muslim-majority nation of 160 million.

The sheer scale of the victory, as of now, reveals the nature and scale of the rigging. It cannot be described as the verdict of the voters.

Ali Riaz, professor at Illinois University

She has been applauded for hosting nearly one million Rohingya refugees who took shelter in Bangladesh after fleeing a brutal military offensive in neighbouring Myanmar.

But critics have accused Hasina of authoritarianism and crippling the opposition. Her bitter political rival and leader of the BNP, Khaleda Zia, 73, is serving a 17-year jail term for corruption.
Opposition alliance accused Hasina’s party of using stuffed ballot boxes [Mahmud Hossain Opu/Al Jazeera]

Voting in the capital, Dhaka, was largely peaceful as convoys of soldiers and paramilitary forces were on the streets, where most traffic was banned.

At least 17 people were killed across the country in clashes between members of rival parties on Sunday despite the deployment of around 600,000 security personnel to prevent violence.

More than 40 opposition candidates pulled out of the election after polls opened, citing vote-rigging and ballot-stuffing, according to the Daily Star.

The opposition claimed thousands of its activists were arrested in the lead-up to the polls.

“We are getting disturbing reports outside Dhaka that overnight votes have been cast illegally,” said Hossain of Jatiya Oikya Front.
’A travesty of an election’

Ali Riaz, professor at the department of politics and government at Illinois State University in the US, said: “It was a travesty of an election”.

“What happened throughout the country, polling centre by centre, from driving out the polling agents to ballot stuffing, can’t be called an election, let alone a credible election.”The sheer scale of the victory, as of now, reveals the nature and scale of the rigging. It cannot be described as the verdict of the voters," Riaz told Al Jazeera over the phone.

The elections commission, which has yet to announce the voter turnout rate, said it would investigate allegations of vote rigging.

“Allegations are coming from across the country and those are under investigation,” SM Asaduzzaman, spokesperson for the elections commission told Reuters news agency. 

“If we get any confirmation from our own channels then measures will be taken as per rules.”

Later, the election commission suspended voting at 22 centres across the country.

Syed Moazzem Hossain Alal, joint secretary-general of the BNP, the main party in the opposition alliance, called the election a “mockery”.

But Mahbubul Alam Hanif, joint secretary-general of the ruling party, said he was satisfied with Sunday’s vote.

“We are happy with the way the vote turned out. I believe Awami League will gain an absolute victory,” he said.

About 104 million people were registered to vote in the country’s 11th general election.

Additional reporting by Saqib Sarker from Dhaka



Bangladesh opposition reject ’farcical’ election and demand new vote

Dozens of candidates pull out, claiming ruling Awami League rigged country’s first contested election in a decade

Michael Safi and Redwan Ahmed
in Dhaka

Sun 30 Dec 2018 15.27 GMT
First published on Sun 30 Dec 2018 01.51 GMT

Voters queue outside a polling station in Dhaka on Sunday. Photograph: Rehman Asad/Barcroft Images

The leader of Bangladesh’s opposition alliance has described Sunday’s general election as farcical, saying any outcome would be rejected and demanding that a new vote be held.

At least 17 people were killed during voting in the country’s first contested elections in a decade. Dozens of candidates pulled out of the contest on the day, claiming the ruling Awami League had rigged the vote to secure a record third consecutive term for the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina.

“We call upon the election commission to declare this farcical election void and demand a fresh election under a neutral government,†said Kamal Hossain, who coordinates an alliance of opposition parties that was hoping to unseat Hasina.

The opposition alliance would hold a meeting on Monday to decide its next move, Hossain said at a news conference a few hours after voting closed. Early results showed Hasina’s party heading for a large majority.

Members of opposing parties clashed throughout election day, which followed a violent seven-week campaign marred by attacks on candidates and journalists and the mass arrest of opposition activists.

At least eight people died in scuffles between party workers, and police shot another three, including an opposition activist who allegedly tried to attack a polling station in the southern town of Bashkhali. A member of an auxiliary security force was also killed by activists from the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP), police alleged.

Salahuddin Ahmed, a BNP candidate from Dhaka, was stabbed while he was moving around in his constituency. Police said the circumstances of the attack were not yet clear.

Salahuddin Ahmed was stabbed on election day in Dhaka. Photograph: Reuters

The electorate of more than 100 million voters, a third of them younger than 30, were asked to deliver its verdict on the decade-long rule of Hasina, 71, who has overseen record economic growth but undermined the country’s democratic institutions. The result is expected by Monday morning.

The capital Dhaka was largely deserted after many workers returned to their villages to cast their votes and vehicles were banned for everyone except journalists and election observers. About 600,000 security personnel were deployed across the country to maintain order.

Authorities shut down 3G and 4G phone services to contain the spread of what they called propaganda. Opposition activists said the measure also prevented them from reporting any irregularities in voting.

“I’m getting text messages of forged voting, illegal ballot staffing from this morning every single minute,†Hossain said earlier in the day. “This is an absolute disgrace to our democracy.â€

The Guardian was denied access to three polling stations in Dhaka about 30 minutes after voting closed at 4pm, told by presiding officers that the ballots had already been counted.

Bangladesh’s election commission told Reuters it was investigating allegations of vote-rigging coming from across the country. “Allegations are coming from across the country and those are under investigation,†said SM Asaduzzaman, a spokesman for the commission. “If we get any confirmation from our own channels then measures will be taken as per rules.â€

Bangladeshis line up to cast their votes in Dhaka, following a campaign marred by violence.
Bangladeshis queue to cast their votes in Dhaka. Photograph: Anupam Nath/AP

Hasina’s son, Sajeeb Wazed, said the election had passed off largely peacefully except for a few isolated incidents. “Yet opposition increase false allegations of irregularities,†he wrote on Twitter. “Trying controversy as opinion polls show landslide for governing party.â€

Opposition groups said the campaign leading up to Sunday had been the most repressed in the country’s 47-year history. They claim more than 8,200 people opposed to Hasina were arrested and more than 12,000 injured.

Hasina is already Bangladesh’s longest-serving prime minister. A credible win would indicate voters are willing to tolerate the erosion of public institutions and their civil rights in exchange for relative political stability and economic growth that has led to a tripling in the country’s annual GDP.

Hasina, most of whose family were killed in a military coup in 1974, has argued that human rights are a peripheral concern to most Bangladeshis and that rural people in particular are more concerned about food and jobs, which she says her government has delivered.

“I believe that people will cast their votes in favour of Awami League to continue the pace of development,†Hasina told reporters in Dhaka after casting her vote. She has said warnings of rampant human rights abuses issued by groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are exaggerations intended to draw funding.

A woman displays her inked thumb after casting her vote. Photograph: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters

Shahedul Anam Khan, a retired brigadier general and opinion columnist, wrote: “Democracy and development [have been] made to appear mutually exclusive, with the ruling party members and MPs going to the extent of rooting for development at the cost of democracy.â€

Despite healthy economic numbers, analysts say inequality has widened and labour surveys show 35% of people aged between 20 and 29 are not working or studying. The Centre for Policy Dialogue, a thinktank, says corruption during Hasina’s term has cost the country more than $2.5bn.

Opposition groups have formed an alliance headed by Hossain, 82, an Oxford-educated lawyer who helped write the constitution and was a close associate of Hasina’s father, Mujibur Rahman.

Hossain said Hasina had changed while in power. “The urge for power can make someone who’s human into something less than human,†he told the Associated Press in an interview.

He has had to distance himself from some elements of the coalition, including former members of Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist party banned from contesting the polls since 2013, after the high court declared its beliefs were contrary to the secularist principles of the constitution.

The BNP, the most powerful force in the coalition, was accused of perpetrating human rights abuses during its most recent five-year term in power, which ended in 2009. Rights groups, however, say Hasina’s clampdown on dissent has been more systematic and effective. The BNP’s leader, Khaleda Zia, is in prison after being convicted twice this year of corruption.

The BNP’s secretary general, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, said on Sunday that a win for the opposition was inevitable if the election was free and fair.