Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 August 2019

Bangladesh opposition rejects poll results and demands fresh vote

Some 600,000 security personnel deployed across the country after campaign marred by deadly clashes

Bangladesh's opposition alliance said on Sunday it rejected the results of the country's controversial general election, which was won by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s ruling party, alleging rigging and demanding a fresh vote under a neutral government.

Ms Hasina's Awami League party easily crossed the 151 seats required to form a government, according to Channel 24, which is compiling results from around the country.

The vote has been marred by violence that killed 17 people and allegations of vote rigging, leading the country’s opposition to reject an election that has installed a leader criticised for increasingly authoritarian tendencies in what will be her third term.

"We reject the results and demand a new election under a neutral government, Kamal Hossain, an octogenarian international jurist who heads the opposition alliance, told a news conference.

Poll clashes left at least 17 dead on Sunday in an election that had expected to give Ms Hasina, the country's longest-serving leader, a new term despite the opposition claims of rigged voting.

Deadly violence and bitter rivalry that marred the election campaign spilled over into voting day, even as authorities imposed tight security with 600,000 troops, police and other security forces deployed across the country.

Ten people were killed in clashes between supporters of Hasina's Awami League and the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, police said.

Three men were shot by police who said they were protecting polling booths, while an auxiliary police member was killed by armed opposition activists, according to officials.

Voting began at 8am under tight security in a parliamentary election that is expected to deliver a historic but tainted fourth victory for Ms Hasina.

Bangladesh's leader has been lauded for boosting economic growth in the poor Asian nation during an unbroken decade in power and for welcoming Rohingya refugees fleeing a military crackdown in neighbouring Myanmar.

But critics accuse her of growing authoritarianism and crippling the opposition in a bid to cling to power. Arch-rival Khaleda Zia is serving 17 years in prison on graft charges she says are politically motivated.

The BNP-led opposition alliance on Sunday accused Ms Hasina's party of using stuffed ballot boxes and other illegal means to fix the result, which is to be announced on Monday.

BNP spokesman Syed Moazzem Hossain Alal told reporters there were "irregularities" in 221 of the 300 seats contested. Its Islamist ally Jamaat-e-Islami said it would reject the results.

"Voters are not allowed to enter booths. Especially women voters are being forced to vote for the boat," Mr Alal said, referring to the Awami League symbol.

The election campaign was marred by violence.

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Read more:

Prime Minister Hasina on top in battle of the Bangladesh Begums

Bangladesh opposition leader Zia gets 5-year jail term for graft

A look at Bangladesh’s steady descent into chaos

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Authorities have also ordered the country's mobile operators to shut down 3G and 4G services until midnight "to prevent the spread of rumours" that could trigger unrest. One independent television news channel complained that its broadcasts were blocked.

Voting in the capital Dhaka was largely peaceful as convoys of soldiers and paramilitary forces were on the streets where most traffic was banned.

The opposition said the unrest was stirred up to deter voters, and presiding officers reported a low turnout across the country.

The opposition says more than 15,000 of its activists have been detained, crushing its ability to mobilise its grassroots support.

Supporters of the Jatiya Party, an alliance partner of ruling Prime Minister and Awami League-led chief Sheikh Hasina, are seen holding posters outside a polling station in Dhaka. AFP
Supporters of the Jatiya Party, an alliance partner of ruling Prime Minister and Awami League-led chief Sheikh Hasina, are seen holding posters outside a polling station in Dhaka. AFP

Human Rights Watch and other international groups have decried the crackdown, saying it has created a climate of fear which could prevent supporters of opposition parties from casting their ballots.

The United States has also raised concerns about the credibility of the Muslim-majority country's election while the United Nations has called for greater efforts to make the vote fair.

Seventeen opposition candidates were arrested over what they claim are trumped-up charges while another 17 were disqualified from running by courts, which Ms Hasina's opponents say she controls.

"This is not (a) free and fair election. It is more a controlled selection," said a diplomat who asked not to be named.

The Bangladeshi leadership has alternated between Ms Hasina and Ms Zia, former allies-turned-foes, over the last three decades and the pair are nicknamed the "Battling Begums".

Ms Hasina has rejected accusations of creeping authoritarianism, but analysts say she mounted the clampdown over fears that young voters were set to hand a victory to the BNP.

Bangladeshis line up to cast their votes outside a polling station in Dhaka. AP
Bangladeshis line up to cast their votes outside a polling station in Dhaka. AP

Her government was criticised earlier this year for its heavy handling of weeks of massive student protests over the abolition of job quotas and poor safety standards on Bangladesh's dangerous roads.

Ms Hasina, the daughter of Bangladesh's first president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was gifted victory in the 2014 election when the BNP boycotted the vote claiming it was not free and fair.

Since then, rights groups have accused her administration of stifling freedom of speech through the toughening of a draconian anti-press law and the enforced disappearance of government dissenters.

Updated: December 30, 2018 09:25 PM

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