Dhaka: Bangladesh’s former premier Sheikh Hasina Wajed has secured a landslide victory in the country’s first election in seven years, unofficial results showed Tuesday, crushing her bitter rival Khaleda Zia.
The alliance led by Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League was set to win 255 of the 300 seats in parliament, according to preliminary results announced on national television.
“Our leader has called for change and the people have responded to her call,” party spokesman Nuh Alam Lenin said after Monday’s elections, which marked the end of two years of rule by an army-backed caretaker regime.
“They have given a thumping verdict against corruption and criminalisation of the past regime.”
Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which won the last election in 2001 by a huge margin, appeared to have won less than 10 percent of the vote and was quick to raise the issue of electoral fraud.
“There have been a lot of irregularities,” BNP spokesman Rizvi Ahmed said.
“Our supporters have been kept from voting, and our polling agents and officials have been barred from performing their duties.”
Sheikh Hasina and Zia -- known as the battling begums -- have ruled Bangladesh alternately since 1991, and their bitter personal rivalry has been blamed for paralysing political life in the country.
The caretaker regime made efforts to shake up the system, and went so far as to jail both women for corruption, but agreed to release them to contest the election.
Sheikh Hasina’s father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, led Bangladesh in its liberation struggle against Pakistan in 1971 and was assassinated in a 1975 military coup.
Although polling was peaceful, there are concerns that the result will see the country slip back into the negative, confrontational politics of the past.
For the moment, newspapers hailed Sheikh Hasina’s performance, with the biggest English language daily The Daily Star describing the win as “stunning,” and proof that the country was “hungry for change.”
Dhaka University political science professor Ataur Rahman said it represented a “huge backlash” against the last BNP government, which had a reputation for rampant corruption.
A UN-funded digital electoral roll, which eliminated 12.7 million fake names, appeared to have put a lid on the widespread vote rigging seen in previous polls, observers said.
“What we have heard is that voting has largely been peaceful, turnout has been high and procedures were followed adequately,” the European Union’s chief election observer, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, said.
The Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami, the BNP’s key partner in its four-party alliance, was way down on the 17 seats it won in 2001, winning just two this time, the preliminary results showed.
The Daily Star said the loss was “a wholesale rejection of the party by the voters” in the conservative Muslim-majority nation.
The election attracted a 70% voter turnout and saw none of the deadly violence that forced the last scheduled vote to be cancelled.
Some 50,000 armed troops had been on alert nationwide during Monday’s voting, while 600,000 police officers were deployed to crack down on fraud or disruptions at the 35,000 polling booths.
The EU -- among the 200,000 observers including 2,500 from abroad watching voting -- said the coming days would be crucial in restoring democratic rule to the impoverished nation of 144 million people.
The Awami League, formed in 1948, traditionally had socialist economic policies but Hasina, 61, has moved it towards backing private sector expansion.