Bangladeshi PM wins third term amid claims of election rigging

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina flashing the victory sign after casting her vote, accompanied by her daughter Saima Wazed Hossain (left) and sister Sheikh Rehana, at a polling station in Dhaka on Sunday.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina flashing the victory sign after casting her vote, accompanied by her daughter Saima Wazed Hossain (left) and sister Sheikh Rehana, at a polling station in Dhaka on Sunday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

DHAKA • Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's alliance won Bangladesh's election with a thumping majority, the country's Election Commission said yesterday, giving her a third straight term following a vote that the opposition rejected as rigged.

The win consolidated Ms Hasina's decade-long rule over Bangladesh, where she is credited with improving the economy and promoting development. But she has also been accused of rampant human rights abuses, a crackdown on the media and suppressing dissent. She denies such charges.

The alliance dominated by her Awami League, seen as close to regional power India, won 287 of the 298 seats for which results have been declared, the commission said. There are 300 constituencies in the country.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which boycotted the last polls in 2014, won just six seats.

Raising minimum wages for workers in Bangladesh's massive garments industry, the world's second-biggest after China, could be one of Ms Hasina's first tasks after she takes office, party leaders have said.

Opposition leader Kamal Hossain said its alliance, the National Unity Front led by the BNP, had called on the Election Commission to order a fresh vote under a neutral administration as soon as possible, alleging that Sunday's polls were flawed.

At least 17 people were killed as the vote took place, police said, after a violent campaign during which the opposition alleged that the government denied it a level playing field. "We have had bad elections in the past, but I must say that it is unprecedented how bad this particular election was," Mr Hossain told Reuters on Sunday.

Candidates reported witnessing ballot stuffing and vote rigging by ruling party activists, who also barred opposition polling agents from voting centres, Mr Hossain said.

However, Mr Sajeeb Wazed, Ms Hasina's son and an Awami League member, told Reuters that no one was intimidated into voting for the party, and accused the BNP of pre-election violence.

"Overall, there were long lines at polling stations and voting was peaceful. Despite the alarmist characterisations of outsiders, democracy is stable and flourishing in Bangladesh," Mr Wazed said.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party congratulated Ms Hasina, calling her victory important for regional peace and Bangladesh's progress.

The Election Commission said it was investigating allegations of vote rigging from across the Muslim-majority country of 165 million people.

Ms Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter: "With serious allegations of voter intimidation, restrictions on opposition polling agents and several candidates seeking a repoll, there are concerns about the credibility of the Bangladesh elections."

Hundreds of opposition workers were arrested in the months before the election on charges that the opposition said were fictitious.

Many said they were attacked by ruling party activists, crippling their ability to campaign.

Ms Hasina's government has denied the accusations, and her party said many of its own workers were hurt in attacks by the opposition.

Seven ruling party workers and five BNP workers were killed and 20 wounded on Election Day, police said.

Reuters reporters across Bangladesh witnessed sparse attendance at polling booths, and some voters alleged ruling party workers had blocked them from entering booths, saying that their ballots had already been cast.

This was the first election in which the BNP campaigned without its leader Khaleda Zia - Ms Hasina's arch rival.

The two women have alternated in power for most of the past three decades, but Khaleda has been in jail since last February on corruption charges she says are politically motivated.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2019, with the headline 'Bangladeshi PM wins third term amid claims of election rigging'. Print Edition | Subscribe