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World & Nation

Ruling party wins in Bangladesh in election marred by violence

Bangladeshi women line up outside a polling station to cast their votes in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Sunday
Bangladeshi women line up outside a polling station to vote in Dhaka, the capital, on Sunday in contentious parliamentary elections, seen as a referendum on what critics call Prime Minister Sheik Hasina Wajed’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
(Anupam Nath / Associated Press)

An election official said Bangladesh’s ruling alliance led by Prime Minister Sheik Hasina Wajed has won Sunday’s election with 288 seats giving it enough to form the government.

Election Commission Secretary Helal Uddin Ahmed finished delivering the results of the voting early Monday.

Ahmed said the ruling Awami League-led alliance won 288 seats while Jatiya Party, led by former President H.M. Ershad, had 20 seats. An opposition alliance led by prominent lawyer Kamal Hossain had only seven and others got three out of 300 seats. Election to one seat was not held Sunday, and results for another seat were halted by the commission.

The results mean Wajed will form the government for the third consecutive time, even as the opposition claims her leadership has become increasingly authoritarian.

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The opposition has rejected the election results, with Hossain calling the election farcical and demanding that a new election be held under the authority of a “nonpartisan government.”

More than a dozen people were killed in election-related violence on Sunday, and the campaign preceding the vote had been dogged by allegations of arrests and jailing of thousands of Wajed’s opponents.

Hossain said a few hours after voting ended that about 100 candidates from the alliance had withdrawn from their races during the day. He said the alliance would hold a meeting Monday to decide its next course.

“We call upon the Election Commission to declare this election void and demand a fresh election under a nonpartisan government,” Hossain told reporters at a nationally broadcast news conference.

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Calls to several Wajed aides seeking comment were not immediately returned.

Wajed’s main rival for decades has been former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, the leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, who a court deemed ineligible to run for office because she is in prison for corruption.

In Zia’s absence, opposition parties formed a coalition led by Hossain, an 82-year-old Oxford-educated lawyer and former member of Wajed’s Awami League party.

The secretary general of Zia’s party, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, won a seat in a twist. Alamgir is a fierce critic of Wajed, and he spearheaded the formation of the opposition alliance with Hossain at the helm. Alamgir had said Sunday he was rejecting any outcome, but it was unknown after his win was declared what he would do.

Sheikh Hasina
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheik Hasina Wajed speaks to the media after casting her vote in Dhaka.
(Anupam Nath / Associated Press)

In the run-up to the election, activists from both the ruling party and the opposition complained of attacks on supporters and candidates.

Bangladesh’s leading English-language newspaper, the Daily Star, had said Sunday 16 people were killed in 13 districts in election-related violence.

The Associated Press received more than 50 calls from people across the country who identified themselves as opposition supporters complaining of intimidation and threats, and being forced to vote in front of ruling party men inside polling booths.

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Wajed has expressed confidence in the outcome, inviting election observers and foreign journalists to her official residence on Monday, when the results were expected to be known.

While rights groups have sounded the alarms about the erosion of Bangladesh’s democracy, Wajed has promoted a different narrative, highlighting an ambitious economic agenda that has propelled Bangladesh past larger neighbors Pakistan and India by some development measures.

Voters “will give us another opportunity to serve them so that we can maintain our upward trend of development, and take Bangladesh forward as a developing country,” Wajed said after casting her ballot along with her daughter and sister in Dhaka.

On Sunday, about 104 million people in the Muslim-majority country were eligible to vote, including many young, first-time voters, in Bangladesh’s 11th general election since independence from Pakistan.

Both sides were hoping to avoid a repeat of 2014, when Zia and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party boycotted elections and voter turnout in the South Asian nation of 160 million was only 22%. More than half of the 300 parliamentary seats were uncontested. The Awami League’s landslide victory was met with violence that left at least 22 people dead.

About 600,000 security officials, including army and paramilitary forces, were deployed to contain violence. The country’s telecommunications regulator shut down mobile internet services nationwide to prevent possible protests from being organized.

The normally traffic-clogged streets of the capital were largely empty because of a ban on vehicles for everyone except election observers and journalists. Many Dhaka residents had left days earlier to vote in their hometowns.


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