Bangladesh Premier Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League have won an easy victory in national elections after opposition groups boycotted the polls. Violence gripped the country on election day, leaving at least 18 dead.
The Awami League gained 105 of the 116 contested seats, as well as 127 unopposed seats in the 300-seat parliament.
However, opponents of the polls – deemed “illegal” since the Awami government forewent the country’s practice of allowing a caretaker government to oversee elections – refuted the outcome and disputed the legitimacy of the vote.
It was “a hollow victory which gives it neither a mandate nor an ethical standing to govern effectively” the widely-circulated Daily Star newspaper said.
Opposition parties boycotted the poll after Prime Minister Hasina refused to accede to their demand to step down and appoint a neutral caretaker to oversee the election. The leader of the opposition Bangladesh National Party, Khaleda Zia, also urged supporters to stay away from election, which she termed a “scandalous farce.”
Zia also accused the government of putting her under house arrest, which the administration denied.
Bangladesh’s political landscape has been dominated for most of the past two decades by the rivalry between Hasina and Zia, who have taken turns at government and opposition during that time.
Low voter turnout
The opposition’s boycott of Sunday’s elections prompted its supporters to protest the polls. In some areas of the country, they clashed with police, forcing many voters to refrain from casting ballots.
The low voter turnout, combined with the unopposed vote on Sunday prompted the main opposition party – the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) – to call on Prime Minister Hasina to declare the outcome null and void.
An adviser to a former caretaker government in Bangladesh said these two factors could put the necessary pressure on the premier’s government to work with the BNP.
“The immediate fallout of this dismal voter turnout will be the Hasina government coming under greater pressure to hold talks with the opposition,” former caretaker government adviser Hossain Zillur Rahman told Reuters news agency.
“It is the ultimate sign of protest by Bangladeshi people and tells us that they are unhappy with the way elections have been held in this country,” Rahman added.
Violence on Sunday forced the closure of at least 400 of the country’s 18,000 stations. The previous day, some 100 poll stations had been burned to the ground. Officials estimated that at least 18 people were killed in the election-day chaos.
kms/lw (AFP, AP, dpa)