DHAKA Jan 6 A day after rolling to victory in
an election boycotted by the main opposition and plagued by
deadly unrest, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina held to
her stance that fresh polls could be called only if her rivals
put a halt to violence.
With the opposition already having called a 48-hour strike
and seven people killed in clashes on Monday, the crisis showed
no sign of easing, risking further unrest and damage to the $22
billion garment industry that accounts for 80 percent of
Hasina's Awami League ended with more than two-thirds of
seats in a contest that was shunned by international observers
as flawed and derided as a farce by the opposition Bangladesh
Nationalist Party (BNP). With fewer than half the seats
contested, the outcome was never in doubt.
"An election can happen any time when BNP comes for a
dialogue, but they must stop violence," Hasina, 64, said on the
lawn at her official residence.
Many BNP leaders are in jail or in hiding, and party chief
Begum Khaleda Zia says she is under virtual house arrest, which
the government denies.
"She (Hasina) has not given any hope or suggested any
practical options for addressing the serious political stalemate
that is affecting the country," said Osman Farruk, a former
education minister and an adviser to Khaleda.
Hasina and Khaleda, 68, have alternated as prime minister
for all but two of the past 22 years. The two are bitter rivals.
Ataur Rahman, a professor of political science at Dhaka
University, said the standoff imperils the momentum of five
years of robust growth in the impoverished nation of 160
The economy grew six percent in the fiscal year that ended
in June, and multilateral agencies expect growth of 5.5 to 5.8
percent in the current year.
"The longer the impasse, the longer Bangladesh suffers,"
Rahman said. "And unfortunately everyone understands this other
than our two top leaders."
The BNP, which had demanded a halt to Sunday's election,
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.
With the BNP on the sidelines and voters worried about
violence, turnout was expected to have been low. Official
figures were not available 24 hours after polls had closed, but
a monitoring group put turnout at 30 percent.
In the last election, in 2008, a record 83 percent of voters
cast ballots. In a 1996 election boycotted by the Awami League,
21 percent voted.
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.
"It is ... disappointing that voters in more than half the
constituencies did not have the opportunity to express their
will at the ballot box and that turnout in most other
constituencies was low," Sayeeda Warsi, a senior British Foreign
Office minister, said in a statement.
Five people were killed on the outskirts of Dhaka on Monday
in a clash between supporters, with two more fatalities in rural
areas, continuing a spate of violence that saw 18 people killed
during polling on Sunday and more than 100 in the run-up to the
(Additional reporting by Ruma Paul; Writing by Tony Munroe;
Editing by Nick Macfie)