Bangla ruling party wins violence-marred polls

January 07, 2014 - 7:15:51 am

People wait to board a train during a strike by the 18-party alliance led by Bangladesh Nationalist Party after the parliamentary election in Dhaka yesterday.

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League won a violence-plagued parliamentary election whose outcome was never in doubt after a boycott by the main opposition party.

With fewer than half of the 300 seats being contested, voters in modest numbers cast ballots on Sunday amid heavy security in polling that lacked the festivity typical of Bangladeshi elections and was shunned by international observers as flawed.

Low voter participation could pile new pressure on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to find a compromise with the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) for holding new elections.

Either Hasina or BNP chief Begum Khaleda Zia has been prime minister for all but two of the past 22 years. The two are bitter rivals.

The Awami League won 105 of the contested seats, on top of the 127 seats where it ran unopposed, giving it a more-than two-thirds majority. Hasina is expected to form a new government this month.

“The immediate fallout of this dismal voter turnout will be the Hasina government coming under greater pressure to hold talks with the opposition,” said Hossain Zillur Rahman, an economist and adviser to a former “caretaker” government tasked with overseeing an election.

“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.”

The impasse between the two main parties, which showed no sign of easing, undermined the poll’s legitimacy and is fuelling worries of economic stagnation and further violence in the impoverished South Asian nation of 160 million.

“This is a suicidal election as it will not bring any peace in the country,” Abul Kashem, who works as a driver and is a supporter of the BNP, said outside a Dhaka polling station. 

The country’s $22bn garment industry, which accounts for 80 percent of exports, has been disrupted by transportation blockades ahead of the election. BNP officials said party supporters would maintain the blockade and called another in a series of general strikes starting yesterday morning.

Eighteen people were killed in separate incidents on election day, according to media reports, and voting was halted at about 400 polling stations. More than 100 people were killed in the run-up to the ballot, mostly in rural areas, and fears of violence kept many voters away.

Police said they had been forced to fire on opposition activists in six incidents.             Reuters

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