Thursday 19 September 2019

Bangladesh election branded ‘farcical’ by opposition leader

Kamal Hossain says the vote – which took place after deadly clashes – should be declared void.

Bangladeshi women stand next to a mural displaying portraits of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, left, and others after casting their votes at a polling station in Dhaka (Anupam Nath/AP)
Bangladeshi women stand next to a mural displaying portraits of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, left, and others after casting their votes at a polling station in Dhaka (Anupam Nath/AP)

By Julhas Alam and Emily Schmall, Associated Press

The leader of Bangladesh’s opposition alliance has called the country’s general election “farcical” after deadly clashes.

Kamal Hossain said any outcome would be rejected and demanded a new election be held under the authority of a “non-partisan government.”

Voters went to the polls to decide whether to give Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina a third consecutive term.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina flashes a victory sign as she speaks to the media after casting her vote in Dhaka (Anupam Nath/AP)

The election has been seen as a referendum on what critics call her increasingly authoritarian tendencies.

Counting had got under way in Bangladesh earlier after parliamentary elections marred by deadly clashes.

The campaign was marred by allegations from the opposition of arrests and jailing of thousands of opponents of Ms Hasina.

Mr Hossain said a few hours after voting ended that about 100 candidates from the alliance had withdrawn from their races during the day.

He said the alliance would hold a meeting Monday to decide its next course.

Bangladesh’s opposition coalition leader Kamal Hossain speaks at his residence in Dhaka (Anupam Nath/AP)

“We call upon the Election Commission to declare this election void and demand a fresh election under a non-partisan government,” Mr Hossain told reporters at a live media briefing.

Calls to several Hasina aides seeking comment were not immediately returned.

Bangladesh’s leading English-language newspaper, the Daily Star, said 16 people were killed in 13 districts in election-related violence.

In the run-up to the election, activists from both the ruling party and the opposition complained of attacks on supporters and candidates.

On Sunday, the Associated Press received more than 50 calls from people across the country who identified themselves as opposition supporters complaining of intimidation and threats, and being forced to vote in front of ruling party men inside polling booths.

“Some stray incidents have happened, we have asked our officials to deal with them,” KM Nurul Huda, Bangladesh’s chief election commissioner, said as he cast his vote in Dhaka, the capital.

The election campaign was marred by the arrests and jailing of what the opposition says are thousands of Ms Hasina’s opponents, including six candidates for Parliament.

At least a dozen people were killed in campaign-related clashes.

A Bangladeshi woman places her finger on a biometric reader for verification before casting her vote at a polling station in Dhaka (Anupam Nath/AP)

Ms Hasina has expressed great confidence in the outcome, already inviting foreign journalists and election observers to her official residence on Monday, by which time the results are expected to be known.

While rights groups have sounded the alarms about the erosion of Bangladesh’s democracy, Ms Hasina has promoted a different narrative, highlighting an ambitious economic agenda that has propelled Bangladesh past larger neighbours Pakistan and India by some development measures.

Voters “will give us another opportunity to serve them so that we can maintain our upward trend of development and take Bangladesh forward as a developing country,” Ms Hasina said after casting her ballot along with her daughter and sister in Dhaka.

Ms Hasina’s main rival is former prime minister Khaleda Zia, the leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, who a court deemed ineligible to run for office because she is in prison for corruption.

The two women have been in and out of power – and prison – for decades.

In Ms Zia’s absence, opposition parties formed a coalition led by Mr Hossain, an 82-year-old Oxford-educated lawyer and former member of Hasina’s Awami League party.

On Sunday, some 104 million people in the Muslim-majority country were eligible to vote, including many young, first-time voters.

PA Media

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