600,000 forces deployed for Bangladesh vote today

A campaign poster featuring Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is seeking a record fourth term in today's polls.
A campaign poster featuring Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is seeking a record fourth term in today's polls.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

DHAKA • Bangladesh toughened security yesterday for an election expected to see Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina win a record fourth term but dominated by opposition claims that they have been shackled by a government clampdown.

The authorities have deployed around 600,000 police, army and other security forces ahead of today's vote, a senior official said, following a deadly campaign of clashes and the arrests of opposition activists.

The forces - which include the elite Rapid Action Battalion, navy, border and coast guards and auxiliary police units - will guard some 40,000 election booths across the poor South Asian nation.

"We have ensured the highest level of security in Bangladesh as per the capacity of the country," said Mr Rafiqul Islam of the election commission.

"We hope there will be a peaceful atmosphere," he added.

A heavy police presence was evident on the streets of the capital Dhaka less than 24 hours before the polls opening at 8am today.

Clashes have gripped the Muslim majority country of 165 million in the run-up to the vote, in which the ruling Awami League and opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) are leading their own alliances.

 
 

Thirteen people have been killed and thousands injured in skirmishes between supporters of Ms Hasina and activists of the BNP, whose leader Khaleda Zia is serving 17 years in prison on graft charges.

The BNP - which boycotted the 2014 election, handing Ms Hasina an easy victory - said its supporters have been deliberately targeted in a bid to deter them from voting, clearing the Prime Minister's path for a new term.

The 71-year-old Ms Hasina has called for voters to back her to further bolster the economy which has shown impressive growth during her decade in power. She has rejected accusations of growing authoritarianism.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 30, 2018, with the headline '600,000 forces deployed for Bangladesh vote today'. Print Edition | Subscribe