Awami League’s Victory in Boycotted Bangladesh Elections

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party have been declared the winner of the Bangladesh general election, marking an unprecedented fourth consecutive term in the country. The Awami League won at least 222 out of 300 parliamentary seats, forming a super majority and governing the South Asian nation of 170 million people. The Jatiya Party, an ally of the ruling party, won only 11, while independent candidates aligned with the Awami League secured victories in 61 parliamentary constituencies.

This result effectively rubber-stamped an outcome that had been predicted long before, as the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies declared they were boycotting the country’s 12th general election. Polling centers closed at 4 p.m. local time, with over half of the country’s nearly 120 million eligible voters choosing to stay at home.

Voter turnout was estimated to be around 40%, a significant jump from 26% an hour earlier. Local media reported instances of ballot stuffing, some of which were canceled by the election commission. Hasina, 76, cast her ballot at Dhaka City College Center in the capital, expressing her hope that all the people of the country will come to vote and continue Bangladesh’s democratic trend.

Tens of thousands of opposition leaders and activists have been arrested since October 28th, when the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) staged the last rally demanding a neutral caretaker government to oversee the polls. At least 39 people, mainly opposition supporters, have died in political violence since the opposition boycott began in Dhaka. The Bangladesh National Party (BNP) called for nationwide strikes, claiming the boycott was successful. Police reported incidents of violence, including the death of Zillur Rahman, Nawab Al, and three people injured by a homemade bomb at a polling center in Dhaka.

Approximately 800,000 police and armed forces personnel have been deployed to safeguard law and order for the general election. By 3 p.m., turnout across the nation was just 27.15%. Bangladesh’s election has been criticized by the United States and Western countries for its uncompetitive nature. Some voters, like Abdus Sattar, who did not participate, believe the ruling party is already the winner. Others, like Anwar Hossain, who supported the ruling Awami League, believe voting is the only way to change the government.

The US has threatened visa restrictions on Bangladeshis suspected of undermining the legitimacy of the vote. However, Hasina, the daughter of the country’s founding father, has largely ignored these pressures. Since 2009, she has presided over a crackdown on dissent, particularly against opposition parties and civil society. Advocacy groups like Human Rights Watch have documented alleged abuses by Bangladeshi authorities, including arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearance, torture, extrajudicial killings, and widespread repression.

Hasina acknowledged that her 14-year interrupted rule may have been flawed and requested forgiveness for any mistakes made. She urged voters to vote for the ‘Boat’ in the January 7 election to correct the mistakes. The cost of living is a key concern for many voters, with food inflation and power cuts adding to consumer woes.

Hasina had previously presided over one of the region’s best-performing economies, but the country’s post-pandemic recovery has been stalled, forcing it to approach the International Monetary Fund for a bailout. In December, the IMF board agreed to provide Bangladesh with $4.7 billion of loans to stabilize the economy, which has come under pressure from currency depreciation and a decline in foreign exchange reserves. Sunday’s one-sided election sets the stage for more violence in the post-voting period due to growing discontent with the incumbent government and high inflation.

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