Following a turbulent election, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina won a landslide victory in Bangladesh’s 11th parliamentary election yesterday, securing a third consecutive term in power amid election rigging claims. The ruling party Awami League bagged 288 of the 300 parliamentary seats contested, beating rival opposition alliance the Jatiya Oikya Front who won six seats. Intense violence between the ruling party and opposition members resulted in the death of 17 people on election day.
Election Day Violence Towards the Press
Amid voting, outbreaks of violence across the country were reported. Renowned photojournalist Shahidul Alam was amongst those attacked by a group of men outside a voting centre who became violent towards him demanding that he stopped taking photographs.
Shahidul News, a website ran by Alam, said ‘one of them, claiming he was the chairman of the Press Council, showed a laminated card around his neck with the Awami League’s boat symbol, but could not show any official documentation from the Election Commission’. The website further claims that other photographers were beaten up and their equipment confiscated in the presence of the police, who did not prevent the incident.
Journalists belonging to respected national newspapers like New Age BD and Daily Star assaulted by ruling party activists have also been reported.
Members of opposition party The Bangladesh National Party (BNP) claimed that many of their polling agents, those who supervise the election count, were refused access to voting in 221 constituencies, Bangladesh Politico reports. The BNP boycotted the election in 2014 which was marred by intense violence.
Leader of the opposition alliance Kamal Hossain called the state of the election “sad and shameful”, speaking to reporters after he cast vote yesterday in Dhaka, bdnews24 reports.
BNP candidate and lawyer, Md. Asaduzzaman, boycotted the election and lodged a formal complaint to the Election Commission (EC), calling for the cancellation of the election due to ‘massive vote rigging’ in the constituency he was standing for, Jhenaidah. The complaint was submitted the night before the election and was addressed to the returning officer and Deputy Commissioner Jhenaidah, Bangladesh Politico reports.
Asaduzzaman claimed that by 11am on election day all of his polling agents were forced outside of polling centres, threatened by Awami League candidate’s agents. He raised further concerns regarding the validity of votes claiming that ‘even some people who died before 30 December have been seen to have casted their votes’.
The lawyer highlighted 52 previous complaints received and ignored by the EC in regards to election rigging, to which he states has established ‘helplessness to conduct a free and fair election under a political government’. Criticisms concerning the behaviour of the EC have been consistent throughout the campaign season.
In response to widespread allegations of election rigging across the country, an EC spokesman told Reuters that it will investigate such claims yesterday.
Members of the opposition have also accused the ruling party for stuffing ballots. Shortly after the polls opened, a BBC correspondent claimed to have seen stuffed ballot boxes at a polling centre in the city of Chittagong, officials declined to comment on this.
Hasina condemned allegations of a rigged election claiming that it was “totally free and independent. There is no doubt about it,” Channel News Asia reports.
“I have nothing to hide. Whatever I do I do it for the country. My conscience is clear,” she added.
Despite reports of poll-related violence and alleged election fraud, the Observers of India, Nepal, Saarc and Islamic Organization for Cooperation (OIC) approved the general election, Dhaka Tribune reports. Members of the delegation visited a number of polling centres in Dhaka.
The OIC’s head Ambassador Hameed A Opeloyeru claimed that the election took place “spontaneously and peacefully” and that election officers had ensured that voters exercised their rights.
In regards to election violence and deaths, Opeloyeru stated that they were not desirable but could be labelled “accidents”, Dhaka Tribune reports.
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