Bangladesh ruling party set to win poll hit by violence, boycott

DHAKA Sun Jan 5, 2014 2:38pm EST

1 of 17. Activists of Bangladesh Jamaat-E-Islami set fire to an office of ruling party Bangladesh Awami League during a clash in Narayanganj January 5, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh's ruling Awami League was poised on Sunday to win a violence-plagued parliamentary election whose outcome was never in doubt after a boycott by the main opposition party.

With fewer than half of the 300 seats being contested, voters cast ballots in modest numbers amid heavy security in polling that lacked the festivity typical of Bangladeshi elections and was shunned by international observers as flawed.

Low voter participation could pile new pressure on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to find a compromise with the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) for holding new elections.

Results in constituencies that featured a contest were expected late on Sunday or early on Monday. Hasina is expected to form a new government sometime this month.

Either Hasina or BNP chief Begum Khaleda Zia has been prime minister for all but two of the past 22 years. The two are bitter rivals.

"The immediate fallout of this dismal voter turnout will be the Hasina government coming under greater pressure to hold talks with the opposition," said Hossain Zillur Rahman, an economist and adviser to a former "caretaker" government tasked with overseeing an election.

"It is the ultimate sign of protest by Bangladeshi people and tells us that they are unhappy with the way elections have been held in this country."

The impasse between the two main parties, which showed no sign of easing, undermined the poll's legitimacy and is fuelling worries of economic stagnation and further violence in the impoverished South Asian nation of 160 million.

Abul Kashem, who works as a driver and is a supporter of the BNP, was dismayed at the political standoff.

"This is a suicidal election as it will not bring any peace in the country," he said outside a Dhaka polling station.

The country's $22 billion garment industry, which accounts for 80 percent of exports, has been disrupted by transportation blockades ahead of the election. BNP officials said party supporters would maintain the blockade and called another in a series of general strikes starting from Monday.

Eighteen people were killed in separate incidents on election day, according to media reports, and voting was halted at more than 150 polling stations. More than 100 people were killed in the run-up to the ballot, mostly in rural areas, and fears of violence had been expected to keep many voters away.

Police said they had been forced to fire on opposition activists in six incidents.

Apart from a handful of crude bomb explosions, Dhaka was calm. In Satkania, near the port city of Chittagong, a poll official's arms were broken and police were attacked.

FUTURE ELECTION?

Hasina has spoken of holding talks with the opposition on the conduct of future elections which, if successful, could lead to another poll. The BNP had demanded a halt to the current electoral process.

Turnout figures were not immediately available, though election officials acknowledged that they had anticipated low numbers and voting appeared slow at Dhaka polling stations.

At one, in the Lalbagh area, 626 of 2,274 voters, or 28 percent, cast ballots. At another nearby site, final turnout among male voters was 21 percent.

The BNP said low turnout vindicated its denunciation of the poll as a farce.

"The turnout is a clear indication that the common people rejected this election and it is almost an election without voters," Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury, a BNP vice chairman, told Reuters.

Junior Law Minister Mohammad Quamrul Islam said the election was necessary for the democratic process and repeated that another poll could be held anytime in agreement with the BNP.

"But they must stop violence before dialogue for the next elections could start," he told reporters after voting.

The BNP denounces Hasina's scrapping of the practice of having a caretaker government oversee elections. The Awami League says the interim government system has proved a failure.

Many BNP leaders are in jail or in hiding, and Khaleda says she is under virtual house arrest, which the government denies.

The European Union, a duty free market for nearly 60 percent of Bangladesh's garment exports, refused to send election observers, as did the United States and the Commonwealth, a grouping of 53 mainly former British colonies.

"The elections have to happen to ensure a government is formed and the country can start functioning again normally," said Mehedi Rahman, 43, a schoolteacher voting in Dhaka.

"The unfortunate part is there is hardly any meaning because the opposition has boycotted it and the outcome is known."

(Additional reporting by Nandita Bose and Serajul Quadir and Reuters Television; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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Comments (3)
BanglaFirst wrote:
Waste of Bangladesh tax payers money holding an election that would be attended by less than 10% of the people as all major polls have consistently rejected evil Awami Leagues Indian backed grand plans by 90% of the Bangladeshis. If Hasina does not stand down then she will be forced to do so after which her fate may be that she will be hanged as she and her party are responsible for many 1000s of murders and kidnappings by her party workers as she manipulated the judiciary to pass verdict that ended many people’s life so I am sure the oppositions will use the same to give her and her party what she has been dishing out last few years. This Hasina is total devil and she is bad news for our economy, for people and for our future. Likes of her are in power because 60% of the people are uneducated or are really dumb otherwise how is it possible criminals like Hasina are voted in which would never happen anywhere else on the planet!

Jan 05, 2014 3:36am EST  --  Report as abuse
BanglaFirst wrote:
Just been told now that one school in a suburb of Dhaka where 7000 voters were supposed to cast their vote, only 170 people voted! So Hasina the message is loud and clear. Resign and run to your devil mother India as you are no longer wanted in Bangladesh.

Jan 05, 2014 8:44am EST  --  Report as abuse
SA103543 wrote:
Very well written. Every word in the comments from BanglaFirst makes sense and I agree

Jan 05, 2014 8:58am EST  --  Report as abuse
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