Dhaka: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is cruising towards a landslide victory in Bangladesh’s general election on Sunday with her Awami League all set to cross the ‘magic number’ of 151 in the 300-member House, following a tense vote that saw at least 17 people killed in poll-related violence and demands of a fresh election by the opposition, alleging rigged voting.
According to the latest results, the ruling Awami League won 135 seats, followed by its key ally the Jatiya Party at 18, the bdnews.24 reported. Main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of jailed ex-premier Khaleda Zia has suffered a massive rout with just four seats, it said. The Election Commission has so far confirmed the complete result of only one constituency in southwestern Gopalganj from where Hasina won bagging 229,539 votes, while her BNP opponent got only 123 votes.
Facing imminent defeat, Bangladesh’s opposition NUF alliance, with BNP as its key partner, rejected the outcome of the general election and demanded fresh polls under a neutral caretaker government.
The National Unity Front (NUF) is a coalition of parties, including BNP, Gono Forum, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal-JSD, Nagorik Oikya and Krishak Sramik Janata League.
“We reject the results and demand a new election under a neutral government," NUF convenor and veteran lawyer Kamal Hossain, who heads the Gono Forum party, told reporters after early results suggested a win for AL-led Grand Alliance.
“We ask that you cancel this election right away," Hossain urged the Election Commission, claiming, “we have reports that fraudulence took place in almost all centres".
BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, who steered the party in Zia’s absence and won from his northeastern constituency, described the polls as a “cruel farce".
A total of 47 opposition candidates boycotted the polls as voting was underway. BNP’s ally Jamaat-e-Islami, which is not a registered political party anymore, announced its boycott alleging massive vote rigging. Jamaat Secretary General Dr Shafiqur Rahman said 22 of its candidates contesting under the “sheaf of paddy" symbol and four others contesting independently have boycotted the polls.
“People’s lives are in jeopardy as the government continues to attack voters and the general public on election day...Such a lopsided election cannot be accepted under any circumstance, and that is why our candidates...have rejected and boycotted the polls," he said in a press statement. While Hasina is seeking re-election for a fourth term as the prime minister, her chief rival Zia, who is reportedly partially paralysed, faces an uncertain future in a Dhaka jail.
The voting started at 8 AM and ended at 4 PM. The results are expected by Monday morning which would be announced by the commission headquarters in the capital, the EC said.
EC officials said they have received over a hundred complaints from candidates throughout the country amid reports of violence. At least 17 people, including a member of a security agency, have been killed in eight districts, and several others were injured in poll-related violence, the Daily Star newspaper reported. The build-up to the election has already been marred by violence.
Reports said most of the dead were ruling party activists, while others were workers of opposition BNP or its allies.
Hasina appeared as the first voter in Dhaka centre from where her nephew and party candidate Fazle Nur Taposh was a contender.
“I’m always confident about our victory in the elections... I trust my people and I know that they will choose us so that they can get a better life in future," she said after casting her vote.
Schools and colleges across Bangladesh were turned into makeshift polling centres for the day while people had begun to line up to cast their vote even before the election opened.
At least 10 candidates - mostly BNP nominees - announced to stay off the polls alleging that their agents were ousted from polling centres by the ruling party workers.
BNP’s Ruhul Kabir Rizvi alleged that polling centres are being occupied across the country, the party’s agents are being driven out and that its supporters and activists are facing violence.
Over 600,000 security personnel including several thousand soldiers and paramilitary border guards were deployed across the nation for the election in which 10.41 crore people were eligible to vote.
“Barring some unwanted incidents, the polling so far was smooth and peaceful," Chief Election Commissioner Nurul Huda said.
Citing security reasons, authorities temporarily blocked mobile data services and slowed down the internet.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh’s private Jamuna TV has been taken off the air. Channel’s chief news editor Fahim Ahmed said private cable operators stopped broadcasting their transmission without giving any reason. An online newspaper quoting cable operators, however, reported that they stopped Jamuna’s broadcast due to technical glitches. The channel is owned by an independent candidate in the polls with an influential businessman from the ruling party being her rival.
The 11th parliamentary poll is the first fully competitive general election in a decade since 2008, while it is widely expected to be won by the AL of Hasina, who is likely to be the country’s first premier for a fourth term.
Zia, serving a 10-year prison term on graft charges, has been barred from contesting the polls, while her son Tarique Rahman is living in London in self exile.