Bangladesh elections: Counting begins amid boycott by Opposition BNP

The voter turnout was low as the ailing jailed ex-premier Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) stayed away from the polls asking people to boycott it. The party alleged that no election under the current government would be fair and credible.
Last Updated 07 January 2024, 15:59 IST

Dhaka: Counting of votes started on Sunday after the polling ended in Bangladesh's general elections marred by sporadic violence and a boycott by the main opposition BNP and its allies, paving the way for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to secure a record fourth straight term.

According to the initial estimates, the voter turnout was around 40 per cent but the figure could change after the final count, Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal said.

An hour before the voting ended, the election commission had said that the voter turnout was 27.15% at 3 p.m. The 2018 general election recorded an overall turnout of more than 80 per cent.

"The voting ended at 4 pm and the counting has started," an election commission spokesman said, adding that the results were expected by early Monday.

He said that other than some sporadic incidents of violence, the voting was largely peaceful in 299 of the 300 constituencies. The Commission suspended polling in one seat because of the death of a candidate.

The early results show that Awami League is leading the electoral race. So far, unofficially, Awami League has won in 10 constituencies, the Dhaka Tribune newspaper reported.

The election commission cancelled the candidature of a ruling Awami League candidate in northeastern Chattogram at the fag-end of the voting hours as he “scolded and threatened” a police officer. The development left the polls in the constituency to be contested by two rebel candidates who belong to the ruling party as well.

The voter turnout was low as the ailing jailed ex-premier Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) stayed away from the polls asking people to boycott it. The party alleged that no election under the current government would be fair and credible.

The usual election-day fervour was nowhere to be seen. Even in front of the election campaign booths, there was no presence of voters except the ruling party-backed supporters and election agents.

Voters cast their votes without any disruption in the absence of long queues, leaving presiding officers with idle time.

Voting was cancelled at three centres -- one in Narsingdi and two in Narayanganj. The Election Commission ordered the arrest of Industries Minister Nurul Majid Mahmud Humayun's son on charges of electoral fraud in Narsingdi, according to reports.

Shots were fired during a clash between supporters of two candidates running for the Chattogram-10 seat. Two people – Shanto Barua, 24, and Jamal, 35 – were shot and taken to Chattogram Medical College Hospital.

Two people were injured after a clash between supporters of the Awami League candidate and an independent candidate at a polling centre in Jamalpur’s Sharishabari.

Four persons, including a child, were injured after two crude bombs exploded near a voting centre in Dhaka's Hazaribagh.

A total of 119.6 million registered voters were eligible to vote at Sunday's polls in more than 42,000 polling stations, according to the country’s Election Commission.

More than 1,500 candidates from 27 political parties were contesting in the election, besides 436 independent candidates.

Over 100 foreign observers, including three from India, monitored the 12th general election, which is being held under tight security.

More than 7.5 lakh members of law enforcement agencies and security forces have been deployed to ensure law and order during the polls.

Prime Minister Hasina cast her vote at Dhaka City College polling centre soon after the voting started. Her daughter Saima Wazed accompanied her.

Hasina, 76, has been in power since 2009 and her Awami League won the last election in December 2018.

She is set to secure a fourth consecutive term as prime minister and a fifth overall term in the one-sided election.

"Polling in the country is going on very well. I hope all the people will come to vote and establish their rights. Maintain the democratic flow in the country and work for the socio-economic development of people," Hasina told reporters after casting her vote.

She alleged that the opposition BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami alliance does not believe in democracy.

"People will vote as they wish. And we were able to create that voting environment. Although the BNP-Jamaat alliance has caused many incidents, including arson attacks," she said.

In response to a question, Hasina told reporters that India is a “trusted friend” of Bangladesh.

"We are very lucky...India is our trusted friend. During our Liberation War, they supported us not only that after 1975, when we lost our whole family - father, mother, brothers, everyone (in a military coup) - and only we two (Hasina and her younger sister Rehana) survived... they gave us shelter. So, we have our best wishes to the people of India," she told reporters.

In August 1975, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, his wife and their three sons were assassinated in their home by military officers. His daughters Hasina and Rehana survived the purge as they were abroad.

In response to a question on how acceptable the election will be while the BNP is boycotting it, Hasina said that her responsibility is towards the people.

"Whether people accept this election or not it is important to me. So, I don't care about their (foreign media) acceptance. No matter what did the terrorist party say or not?" she said.

Hasina's ruling Awami League (AL) is expected to win the election as the BNP of former premier Khaleda Zia, 78, who is under house arrest as a convict of graft charges, boycotted the polls. The BNP boycotted the 2014 election but joined the one in 2018.

The 27 political parties that contested the elections include the opposition Jatiya Party (JAPA). The rest are members of the ruling Awami League-led coalition, which experts dub as 'satellite parties.'

The BNP is observing a 48-hour nationwide general strike which began at 6 am on Saturday and will end at 6 am on Monday. It had called upon voters to shun the election to mark the beginning of an end of what it calls a 'fascist government.'

15 other political parties also boycotted the election.

The ruling party did everything it could to make the election look participatory and competitive. It allowed party leaders to join the polls in droves as 'independent' candidates. As a result, in every seat, two or more AL candidates are pitted against each other.

Former Election Commissioner Brig Gen (retd) Sakhawat Hussain termed Sunday's polls a unique one compared to the previous two elections.

"This time the election is taking place between candidates from the same party in the name of independents and dummies. As a result, voters are less interested in the polls," said Sakhawat.

"So, it is a unique model election … Results of the election are certain, everybody knows who is going to win. The only uncertain thing is who will be in the opposition bench," he added.

(Published 07 January 2024, 15:59 IST)

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