Bangladesh Election: Hasina Seeks Fifth Term Amid Opposition Boycott

Low Turnout and Allegations of Inducements Mark the Voting Day, Amplifying Political Tensions and International Scrutiny.
Bangladesh Election: Hasina Seeks Fifth Term Amid Opposition Boycott
Bangladesh Election: Hasina Seeks Fifth Term Amid Opposition Boycott
Masum Billah, Dhaka

Bangladesh witnessed a pivotal election on Sunday as voters cast ballots in a contest expected to secure a fifth term for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The election unfolded amidst controversy, with the opposition, led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), boycotting the process, denouncing it as a "sham." Hasina, while advocating for democratic participation, faced accusations of a crackdown on opposition and human rights abuses.

Early signs pointed to a low voter turnout, with reports emerging of inducements, including threats to confiscate government benefit cards necessary for welfare payments if voters did not support the ruling Awami League. At one polling station in Dhaka, only three people had voted in the initial 30 minutes, reflecting potential disillusionment among the electorate.

Months of protests by the BNP and other parties leading up to the election highlighted political tensions. The BNP claimed a significant number of arrests, stating that about 25,000 of its members, including the entire local leadership, were detained during the crackdown. The government disputed this figure, reporting 11,000 arrests.

The historic rivalry between Hasina and Khaleda Zia, absent due to health issues, dominated Bangladeshi politics. Zia's son, Tarique Rahman, led the BNP from London, echoing the opposition's refusal to participate in what they deemed a "sham election."

International scrutiny intensified as the US sanctioned a police unit accused of extrajudicial actions. Economic challenges, including wage stagnation in the garment sector, further fueled discontent among the population.

Pierre Prakash of the International Crisis Group noted a decline in Hasina's popularity, underscoring concerns about limited avenues for expression at the ballot box. The election commission deployed a substantial security force of 175,000 police officers and over 515,000 members of the Ansar reserve force to maintain order.

With polls open until 5 pm (1200 GMT) and results expected after midnight, the outcome remains uncertain. The economic backdrop, including disruptions in the garment sector, poses additional challenges for Hasina's government in addressing the diverse needs of Bangladesh's population.

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