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Roving Periscope: Amid Islamist opposition boycott, Hasina wins 5th term in Bangladesh

Roving Periscope: Amid Islamist opposition boycott, Hasina wins 5th term in Bangladesh

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Virendra Pandit

 

New Delhi: Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed won re-election for a fifth term, amid a boycott led by the main opposition party she branded a “terrorist organization,” the media reported on Monday.

Until the latest reports became available, the media said, her political party Awami League (AL) won 223 seats out of 299 for which polls were held. AL’s ally, Jatiya Party (Ershad) won 11 seats while 62 Independents also won.

Voting for one of the seats was withheld due to the death of a candidate. The counting of votes is likely to conclude late on Monday.

Fifty-eight of the Independents who won were leaders of the ruling party whom Hasina encouraged to contest at the cost of the AL’s official candidates, just to help make this election look competitive and draw voters, who were otherwise disinterested in casting votes due to a lack of options to chose from, the reports said.

The AL’s efforts to pit their own as independent candidates against official party nominees paid off in terms of voter turnout. What many feared would be a very low number, the election eventually managed to have at least 40 percent of voters coming out.

With over 90 percent of the results declared, Hasina’s party had won over two-thirds of the seats in Parliament. Among the victors was Shakib Al Hasan, the Bangladesh cricket team captain, who won his seat for Hasina’s party in a landslide, local officials said.

Hasina, the daughter of Bangladesh’s founding President late Mujibur Rehman, has presided over breakneck economic growth in a country once beset by grinding poverty. Still, the AL government has been accused of rampant human rights abuses and a ruthless crackdown on the Islamist-friendly opposition.

The media reported that given that 60 percent of the eligible voters didn’t vote in the Sunday election, the main Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) claimed that its boycott succeeded.

As the results of the 12th general election to Jatiya Sangsad (Parliament) emerged after an eight-hour ballot exercise in over 42,000 voting centers across Bangladesh, the country’s four-time prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wazed, was casually waiting to take up the same job for the next five years.

The election results, for 119 million voters in a country of 170 million, were seen as a fait accompli, the media reported.

As the Begum Khaleda Zia-led main Opposition BNP did not participate in what it dubbed a “dummy election,” everyone knew that the result was a foregone conclusion.

The AL faced almost no effective rivals in its contested seats, but it refrained from fielding candidates in a few constituencies, an apparent effort to avoid the legislature being branded a one-party institution.

The BNP, whose ranks have been decimated by mass arrests, called a general strike and, along with dozens of others, refused to participate in a “sham election.”

Hasina, 76, had called for citizens to show faith in the democratic process — but election officials said initial reports suggested a meager turnout of some 40 percent.

“The BNP is a terrorist organization,” she told reporters after casting her vote. “I am trying my best to ensure that democracy should continue in this country.”

BNP chief Tarique Rahman, speaking from Britain where he lives in exile, said he feared “fake votes” could be used to boost voter turnout.

“What unfolded was not an election, but a disgrace to the democratic aspirations of Bangladesh,” he wrote on social media, adding he had seen “disturbing pictures and videos” backing his claims.

Politics in the world’s eighth-most populous country has long been dominated by the rivalry between Hasina, and two-time premier Khaleda Zia, wife of a former military ruler.

Hasina has been the decisive victor since returning to power in a 2009 landslide, with two subsequent polls accompanied by widespread irregularities and accusations of rigging.

Zia, 78, was convicted in a graft case in 2018 and is now hospitalized in Dhaka. Her son Tarique Rahman now heads the party from exile in the UK.

The Jatiya Party of late autocrat General H M Ershad, known for its dubious double role of being a coalition partner of the AL and also a pet opposition, appears to be the biggest loser of the contest, with its seats reduced to less than half, that is, only 11 seats.

Of the 12 national elections that Bangladesh has had since 1973, four were held under a non-partisan caretaker administration (1991, 1996, 2001, and 2008), and those were arguably the best ones in terms of electoral neutrality and fairness.

For now, Sheikh Hasina, the world’s longest-serving female head of government, is all set to take oath as the PM of a country she has ruled for a good 20 years.

 

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