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Bangladesh polls: Sheikh Hasina set for landslide win as opposition demands re-election

Main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party of jailed ex-premier Khaleda Zia won just three seats; polls marred by violence at places as clashes claim 17 lives

PTI | Dhaka |

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is cruising towards a landslide victory in Bangladesh’s general election on Sunday as she aims for a record fourth term in office with her Awami League gaining a big lead in results so far, following a tense vote that saw at least 17 people killed in poll-related violence and allegations of rigged voting by the Opposition.

According to results announced until 11 pm, the ruling Awami League party won 90 seats, followed by its key ally the Jatiya Party at 13, bdnews.24 reported.

Main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party of jailed ex-premier Khaleda Zia won just three seats.

BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, who steered the party in Zia’s absence, won in his northeastern Thakurgaon constituency, officials said.

However, the Election Commission has so far confirmed the complete result of only one constituency in southwestern Gopalganj from where Hasina won bagging 229,539 votes, while her BNP opponent got only 123 votes.

While Sheikh Hasina is seeking re-election for a fourth term as the prime minister, her chief rival, ex-premier Zia, who is reportedly partially paralysed, faces an uncertain future in a Dhaka jail.

The voting started at 8 AM and ended at 4 PM. The results are expected by Monday morning which would be announced by the commission headquarters in the capital, the EC said.

EC officials said they have received over a hundred complaints from candidates throughout the country amid reports of violence.

At least 17 people, including a member of a security agency, have been killed in eight districts in poll-related violence, the Daily Star newspaper reported, with dozens injured. The build-up to the election has already been marred by violence.

Reports said most of the dead were ruling party activists, while others were workers of opposition BNP or its allies.

Hasina appeared as the first voter in Dhaka centre from where her nephew and party candidate Fazle Nur Taposh was a contender.

“I’m always confident about our victory in the elections… I trust my people and I know that they will choose us so that they can get a better life in future,” she said after casting her vote.

Schools and colleges across Bangladesh were turned into makeshift polling centres for the day while people had begun to line up to cast their vote even before the election opened.

At least 10 candidates – mostly BNP nominees – announced to stay off the polls alleging that their agents were ousted from polling centres by the ruling party workers.

BNP’s Ruhul Kabir Rizvi alleged that polling centres were being occupied across the country, the party’s agents are being driven out and that its supporters and activists are facing violence.

“From the picture we have received, this is a violent election. We are seeing a one-sided election environment conducted at the whims of the government. This paints a clear picture that they want to ensure a favourable result through a one-sided contest,” Rizvi said.

The Jatiya Oikya Front or NUF is a coalition of four parties – Gono Forum, BNP, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal-JSD, Nagorik Oikya and Krishak Sramik Janata League.

Over 600,000 security personnel including several thousand soldiers and paramilitary border guards were deployed across the nation for the election in which 10.41 crore people were eligible to vote.

According to eyewitnesses, posters bearing the ruling party’s “boat” symbol outnumbered those of the main opposition’s “sheaf of paddy”. BNP earlier said intimidation and police harassment kept their activists away from the campaign and polling process.

“Barring some unwanted incidents, the polling so far was smooth and peaceful…We could tell you at the end of the day if the election was participatory,” Chief Election Commissioner Nurul Huda said.

The NUF alliance rejected the outcome of the general election and demanded fresh polls under a neutral caretaker government.

“We reject the results and demand a new election under a neutral government,” NUF convenor Kamal Hossain, who heads the Gono Forum party, told a media conference.

His comments came after early trends and results suggested a landslide victory for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s ruling Awami League-led Grand Alliance.

“We ask that you cancel this election right away,” Hossain urged the election commission claiming “we have reports that fraudulence took place in almost all centres”.

BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, who steered the party in Zia’s absence and won from his northeastern constituency, described the polls as a “cruel farce”.

“This has caused long-term damage to the country…the nation has incurred huge damage,” he said.

A total of 47 opposition candidates boycotted Sunday’s polls as voting was underway but Alamgir said they had stayed out due to personal reasons.

Several foreign observers, including from India, earlier said polls were going smoothly as they saw no anomalies in polling centres they had visited.

The Awami League, however, acknowledged that the polls were marred by violence at places but said 10 of its activists were also killed in opposition attacks as the clashes claimed 17 lives.

Citing security reasons, authorities temporarily blocked mobile data services and slowed down the internet.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh’s private Jamuna TV has been taken off the air. 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.”

An online newspaper quoting cable operators, however, reported that they stopped Jamuna’s broadcast due to technical glitches. The channel is owned by an independent candidate in the polls with an influential businessman from the ruling party being her rival.

The 11th parliamentary poll is the first fully competitive general election in a decade since 2008, while it is widely expected to be won by the Awami League of Sheikh Hasina, who is likely to be the country’s first premier for a fourth term.

Zia, serving a 10-year prison term on graft charges, has been barred from contesting the polls while her son Tarique Rahman is living in London in self exile.