Bangladesh Elections 2024: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to cruise to fifth victory unopposed

Bangladesh Elections 2024: Sheikh Hasina's government is battling accusations of severe human rights violations and a harsh crackdown on the opposition, but the lack of viable candidates hails a guaranteed win for the politician.

Livemint
Updated7 Jan 2024
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina checks her watch as she waits for the official opening time to cast her vote in Dhaka
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina checks her watch as she waits for the official opening time to cast her vote in Dhaka(AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

Bangladesh Elections 2024: Bangladesh began voting for its general elections early today January 6, amid pre-poll violence and opposition calls for a boycott of the incumbent government and its candidate, current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Notably, however, despite the opposition, protests, and claims of coercion, Hasina looks set for a fifth clean sweep in the country amid a lack of a significant rival option.

This election has unfolded against the backdrop of Hasina's government tamping down on the boycotts by opposition party representatives via widespread arrests. Her administration is battling accusations of severe human rights violations and a harsh crackdown on the opposition, AFP reported.

Track | Bangladesh Elections 2024 Live Updates here

Calls for Boycott

Voting began early morning and polling stations are scheduled to function until 5:00 pm local time, with the announcement of results expected post-midnight. Nevertheless, Hasina's adversaries have called for a general strike over the weekend, urging citizens to abstain from voting.

To maintain order during the voting process, the election commission deployed approximately 175,000 police officers and over 515,000 members of the Ansar reserve force.

While Hasina's party remains dominant in contested seats, it strategically refrained from nominating candidates in some areas. This move aims to prevent the legislature from being perceived as a solely one-party institution, the report added.

Also Read | Bangladesh Elections 2024: ‘India is our trusted friend’, says PM Sheikh Hasina, likely to secure another term

Political Dynamics

Bangladesh's political landscape has long been shaped by the rivalry between 76-year-old Hasina and 78-year-old Khaleda Zia. The latter claims credit as the former two-time prime minister of the country (being the first woman in the post) and as the daughter of the country's founding leader Army Chief General Hussain Muhammad Ershad.

Zia, currently in poor health in a Dhaka hospital, saw her son, Tarique Rahman, assume leadership of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), from exile in London. Rahman told AFP that his party, along with dozens of others, had refused to participate in a "sham election".

The opposition, including the BNP, protested for months last year, demanding Hasina's resignation ahead of the elections. This resulted in a widespread crackdown, with thousands of opposition members, including the entire local leadership of the BNP, reportedly arrested, the report noted.

Also Read | From Rahman vs Rahman to Hasina vs Zia: A look back at Bangladesh's tumultuous election history

Hasina accused the opposition of violence during last year's protests, while her government faced allegations of excessive use of force, the report added.

The United States, a significant export market for Bangladesh, imposed sanctions on a police unit and its commanders over allegations of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. Hasina's government however denies any charges of excessive force.

Citizens Dissatisfied

Economic challenges such as food price spikes and power shortages, have caused dissatisfaction among citizens.

Economic difficulties, especially in the garment sector, ignited industrial unrest in late 2022. Calls for wage increases led to factory closures, arson, and some violence, reflecting growing discontent among citizens of the world's eight populous nation. The country's garment sector contributes to 85 percent of Bangladesh's $55 billion worth of annual exports.

Reports emerged of voters facing threats of losing government benefit cards, essential for welfare payments if they refrained from supporting the ruling Awami League. "They said they would seize it from me if I don't vote. They said since the government feeds us, we have to vote for them," Lal Mia, 64, told AFP in the central district of Faridpur.

Also Read | Bangladesh elections update: Polling booths torched; schools, trains burned ahead election day

So, why is Hasina set for a clean sweep?

For one, there is no other viable choice. Also, her government has been successful in bringing economic progress and guiding the country through severe poverty.

Pierre Prakash of the International Crisis Group told AFP Hasina's government was clearly "less popular than it was a few years ago, yet Bangladeshis have little real outlet at the ballot box. That is a potentially dangerous combination."

Thus analysts suggest that while Hasina's government might be less popular than before, the lack of substantial electoral alternatives poses a potential challenge, creating a volatile situation.

(With inputs from AFP)

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