Vol. XLIII No. 01 January 06, 2019

Bangladesh Elections: Landslide Victory for Sheikh Hasina, Opposition Allege Foul Play

Special Correspondent in Dhaka

SHEIKH Hasina-led Awami League and Mahajote (Grand Alliance) registered an unprecedented victory in the history of Bangladesh in the 11th Jatiya Sangsad (National Parliament) elections, by securing 288 out of 298 seats. However, the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led Jatiya Oikya Front (National Unity Front) and Left Democratic Front led by Communist Party of Bangladesh have rejected the results alleging widespread violence, rigging and manipulations. The Jatiya Oikya Front demanded fresh elections under a neutral caretaker government. The National Election Commission had rejected the demand and termed the elections as ‘free, fair and peaceful.’

Bangladesh Jatiya Sangsad elections were held on December 30, 2018, amidst violence in almost all districts outside the capital city Dhaka. At least 19 people were killed including two security personnel. However, most of the persons killed were ruling Awami League workers or supporters. As reports of violence, booth capturing and rigging were pouring in by noon, 68 candidates of Jatiya Oikya Front announced withdrawal from the election, including some women candidates. The elections were held with the main opposition leader and former prime minister Begam Khaleda Zia in jail in a misappropriation case of a Trust Fund. She was convicted and was awarded 17 years jail term.

Of the 300-member Jatiya Sangsad, elections were held for 298 seats. There are 104 million registered voters and around 1,861 candidates have contested. The voting period was from 8 am to 4 pm. Counting of votes had taken place in around 40,000 polling stations all over the country as per Election Commission rules. A few hours after commencement of polls, BNP spokesman Rizvi Ahmed accused the ruling party men of resorting to violence and widespread irregularities including stuffing ballot overnight, driving out their polling agents and capturing booths across the country. Mujahidul Islam Selim, president of Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) also accused that ruling party men, with the active connivance of election machinery, resorted to booth capturing overnight and stuffing ballot. CPB president told the reporters that their candidates could not enter the polling booths in Netrakona, Rangpur, Kishoreganj, Kushthiya, Brahmanbaria, Kulna, Barishal and other districts where CPB and its alliance partners put up candidates. He alleged that there were no ballot papers for two or three hours after commencement of the voting in many polling stations, as the ruling party men stuffed ballot papers overnight.

Genuine voters had to return without casting their votes. In many booths, polling officers put ink mark on the fingers of the voters and told them to leave as their vote has already been cast. Selim said that the entire election was a farce and those who have been declared as ‘elected’ will not be recognised by the people and it will be a ‘bogus parliament elected by bogus voters’.

On the other hand, HT Immam, advisor to the prime minister and co-chairman of Awami League Election Steering Committee, brushed aside the opposition’s allegation by saying that Bangladesh poll has set an example in the region for its peaceful atmosphere. He said, the elections were by and large peaceful except for some stray incidents.

The reporters who visited some of the polling stations in Dhaka and a few polling stations outside the capital, have seen a different picture. In Dhaka, metropolitan city voters, both male and female were seen casting their votes peacefully. As the morning was very cold, the turnout of voters was very poor in the first two hours. Later, the turn out gradually increased and it was moderate. In Narayanganj and Narsinghdi districts near Dhaka, the queue of voters before the polling stations was small. Army and para-military forces were seen patrolling the main road. Local leaders of the opposition parties alleged that their polling agents were driven out by the ruling party supporters and that their voters were not allowed to vote.

In the evening, Dr Kamal Hussein, chairman, Jatiya Oikya Front and Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, BNP general secretary, rejected the entire elections and demanded a fresh election. Mirza Fakhrul termed the election as a cruel farce. Both Dr Kamal Hussein and Mirza Fakhrul alleged that the ruling party has done serious damage to the nation and they will be responsible for destroying democracy. He said, it has vindicated their stand that no free and fair election is possible under a political party-led care-taker government. Dr Kamal Hussein, an international jurist and one of the framers of Bangladesh constitution in 1972, the first law minister in late Sheikh Mujibar Rahaman government, left Awami League in late 1990, and established Gana Forum in 1992. It was Dr Kamal Hussein who led the opposition parties and groups and also was instrumental in bringing all the opposition parties to participate in the National Parliament elections. It may be mentioned here that the BNP and other opposition parties boycotted the parliament elections in 2014 demanding election be held under a neutral care-taker government like in 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2008.

The final results were declared by the Election Commission and the voting percentage surprised everybody. As per Election Commission announcement, the Awami League and its alliance partners were elected in 288 seats out of 298. BNP won in 5, Gana Forum 2 and Independent 3 seats. After the formation of Bangladesh in 1971, following historic liberation struggle, Awami League never obtained such a landslide victory.

According to chief election commissioner, casting of valid votes was 80 per cent and Awami League alone secured 80 percent of the votes that were cast. Their figures also were less believable according to the neutral observers. If anybody analyses the polling percentage, Awami League once got 50 per cent votes and that was the highest vote for the country. In other past elections, Awami League’s voting percentage was between 37 per cent and 45 per cent. But this time, percentage of votes in favour of Awami League had increased double the number. On the other hand, the BNP got 38 to 44 per cent votes in last many elections. But this time their vote share reduced to below 10 per cent, according to the Election Commission.

 A senior journalist said, in the first two hours, casting of votes was below 10 per cent. Nobody can imagine that in the next six hours, 70 per cent more voters could have cast their votes. In nowhere, massive turnout of voters was noticed.

Sharply criticising the role of the Election Commission, Professor Mahabub Rahman, a noted economist and social scientist said, the Election Commissioners closed their eyes and ears. He called the elections a complete mockery. He expressed grave apprehension that anger of the people will explode anytime and on any issue. CPB president Mujahidul Selim also echoed the same apprehension.

Talking to foreign journalists one day after the poll, in reply to a question regarding performance of the main opposition alliance, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that Jatiya Oikya Front fielded such people as their candidates whom the people have no faith upon. She also said that, opposition parties were not serious in fighting the election. She also alleged that the accommodation of candidates of banned Jamayet-e-Islami party in the BNP candidate list who committed genocide during the liberation was one main causes of their defeat.

The observation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was partially true. The BNP accommodated 25 Jamayat-e-Islami members as candidates of BNP. Dr Kamal Hussein when came to know about this,  had said that if this fact was known to him earlier that Jamayat people got accommodation in the BNP candidate list, he would not have led the Jatiya Oikya Front.

According to the neutral observers, Awami League-led Mahajote would have got an electoral majority to form the government as performance of Sheikh Hasina government was very good. Hasina government achieved acclamation from international community for her performance in upgradation of human development index and also in other fields, despite the many negative issues against the government. According to them, the Sheikh Hasina government did not take any ‘risk’ which could erode its credibility in the eyes of the public.

Meanwhile, post-poll violence is continuing in many parts of the country. The main targets are the political opponents. Many are worried whether Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is pushing the country into a dangerous path! Ruling party asked its supporters not to organise any victory rallies.