angladesh commenced voting on Sunday in an election poised to secure a fifth term for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, despite an opposition-led boycott. The main opposition party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), labeled a “terrorist organization” by Hasina, orchestrated a weekend general strike, urging citizens to abstain from what they deemed a “sham” election.
While Hasina’s tenure has witnessed remarkable economic growth, accusations of widespread human rights abuses and a harsh crackdown on opposition have marred her government’s reputation. The ruling Awami League, led by Hasina, faces minimal competition in the seats it is contesting, possibly to avoid the perception of a one-party-dominated legislature.
The BNP, significantly weakened by mass arrests, mobilized protests last year demanding Hasina’s resignation before the election. The government’s crackdown resulted in the arrest of around 25,000 opposition members, according to the BNP, though the government disputes this figure.
Despite reports of inducements and threats, early indications suggested low voter turnout. Some citizens claimed they were coerced to vote for the ruling party under the threat of losing government benefit cards. Hasina, after casting her vote, urged the public to participate, emphasizing her commitment to sustaining democracy.
Security measures were extensive, with over 175,000 police officers and 515,000 members of the Ansar reserve force deployed to maintain order. International observers expressed concerns about the electoral process, describing it as a potential “sham election.”
The political landscape, once dominated by the rivalry between Hasina and Khaleda Zia, has seen Zia’s conviction for graft in 2018, leaving her in declining health in a Dhaka hospital. Economic challenges, including food cost spikes and power shortages, coupled with dissatisfaction, raise concerns about political stability in Bangladesh.
Pierre Prakash of the International Crisis Group noted that while Hasina’s popularity has waned, the lack of a substantial electoral outlet poses a “potentially dangerous combination” for the nation. The United States has imposed sanctions on Bangladesh’s security forces, accusing them of extrajudicial killings and disappearances. The election results were anticipated after midnight.