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Bangladesh: Electoral Juggernaut
  • sheikh hasina wajid
    sheikh hasina wajid
On December 30, 2018, Bangladesh conducted its 11th General Elections. The Awami League (AL)-led 14-party-alliance of the incumbent Prime Minister (PM) Shiekh Hasina achieved a thumping majority, with 288 seats in the 300 member Jatiyo Shangshad (National Parliament). The Opposition alliance, which included jailed leader Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP and another 19 parties, contesting under the banner of Jatiya Oikya Front (United National Front), which was formed on October 13, won just seven seats. Independents won another three seats. Results for the Brahmanbaria-2 constituency were withheld as there will be re-voting in three centres in the constituency. In the Gaibandha-3 constituency, polling was postponed as A.T.M. Fazle Rabbi the BNP-led 20-party alliance candidate died of old-age complications.

According to media reports, at least 17 people were killed on the polling day in poll-related violence across eight of the country’s 64 Districts. According to varying media reports, at least five people were killed and 2,682 had been injured in election-related violence since December 10, the day electioneering formally kicked off. On November 8, 2018, the Bangladesh Election Commission had announced December 23 as the date for elections. On November 12, 2018, however, the EC postponed the poll date by a week to December 30, 2018. The Opposition had demanded deferral of the poll schedule by one month, on the grounds that the tenure of the current Parliament should be allowed to expire, in order to pave the way for polls under the auspices of an Interim Government. on September 30, 2018, BNP had announced a seven-point list of demands which included the stipulation that “the government must step down and an election-time neutral government must be formed following discussions with all political parties”. 

A total of 39 political parties and 1,861 contenders participated in the election.

After AL’s landslide victory, the Opposition has been crying foul. Veteran lawyer Kamal Hossain, who leads NUF, like many other Opposition leaders claiming that massive rigging had occurred in the General Election, asked the election commission to “declare this election void and demand a fresh election under a nonpartisan government." However, the elections have been endorsed by international observers of South Asia Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), India, and Nepal. SAARC delegation member Tania Foster stated that they visited five centres and saw that everyone was getting access to polling centres to be able to cast their votes… All officers were doing their jobs greatly to ensure the people’s voice is heard." The OIC delegation’s head, Ambassador Hameed A. Opeloyeru, confirmed that international standards were met and that the election was credible.

On a number of parameters, the 2018 elections have been a major improvement over the previous polls. Bangladesh had conducted its 10thGeneral Elections on January 5, 2014, with a comprehensive boycott by the Opposition, as well as by some of Sheikh Hasina Wajed's allies, prominently including General H.M. Ershad's. The Jatiya Party-Ershad, however, participated in the elections under the leadership of General Ershad’s wife, Rowshan Ershad. 153 of 300 seats in the Jatiyo Shangshad had then been decided unopposed. The Awami League won 107 seats; followed by the Jatiya Party-Ershad, 14; Independents, 16; Workers Party (WP), 5; Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD), 2; Bangladesh Tarikat Federation, 2; Jatiya Party-Manju and Bangladesh Nationalist Front (BNF), 1 each. Of the 153 unopposed seats, AL candidate were declared unopposed winners in 127; followed by the Jatiya Party-Ershad, with 20 seats; JSD, with 3 seats; WP with 1 and Jatiya Party-Manju with 1 seat. Only 11 of the 41 registered parties in Bangladesh participated in the 2014 elections, which were strongly opposed by the BNP-led 18 party alliance. The run-up to the polls, as well as the election itself, was marred by widespread street violence. At least 18 people were killed on polling day and 151 people were killed in street violence between the announcement of the elections on November 27, 2013, and election day. The protests combined opposition to the elections and to the War Crimes Trials, which had already sent one senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) to the gallows. The Opposition’s cries of ‘foul play’ will linger, but are unlikely to impact on the Hasina Government in its renewed tenure, particularly on its capacities to ensure that the steps taken since 2009 against extremism and terrorism, as well as in bringing the accused in the War Crimes Trials to justice, are strengthened further.
Ajit Singh Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management