Bangladesh PM Wins 3rd Term After Violent Election, Accusations Of Rigging

Dec 31, 2018
Originally published on December 31, 2018 1:00 pm

Updated at 12:20 p.m. ET

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her ruling alliance have secured another term in power following Bangladesh's general election Sunday, during which the military was deployed and almost 20 people were killed. The results, announced Monday by the Bangladesh Election Commission, have been rejected by the main opposition party, which accuses Hasina's party of rigging the election, according to the Associated Press.

On Monday, Hasina said her government tried to ensure a free election and that the opposition lost because it lacked leadership, Reuters reports.

The United Nations in a statement issued Monday said it was aware of the violence and "reports of irregularities" in the elections.

"We call on all sides to exercise restraint and ensure a peaceful post electoral environment, where people can maintain their right to assembly and expression," a U.N. spokesman said. "We encourage the parties to address electoral complaints in a peaceful manner and through legal means. Violence and attacks on people and property are not acceptable."

Hasina, who has been in office since 2009, is credited with almost a decade of continued GDP growth in Bangladesh as well as the development of a roughly $30 billion garment export industry, second-largest only to China. She also has been applauded for her handling of the Rohingya refugee crisis, reports Al Jazeera. Her ruling Awami League alliance won 288 of the 300 parliamentary seats up for grabs during Sunday's election, AP reports.

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, a senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, a think tank based in New Delhi, says Hasina's development-centered pitch helped her win re-election. She told NPR the country's improving economy "has boosted the morale of the people like anything."

For common people, especially in an impoverished country like Bangladesh, Bhattacharjee says, everyday issues such as economic growth and development are more important than human rights violations and cracking down on free speech.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party has accused Hasina's decade-long rule of becoming increasingly authoritarian, according to AP. The lead-up to this weekend's election saw a widespread crackdown on dissent and the media. Hasina's opponents also complained that they were unable to campaign freely because of intimidation, allegations the ruling party denies.

Hasina's administration also drew flak for the arrest of a prominent Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam. And her political rival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, has been imprisoned since February after being sentenced to five years for alleged corruption and was ineligible to mount her own campaign, reports Voice of America.

These concerns prompted the U.S. to send election monitors, according to Reuters. During Sunday's vote, at least 17 people were killed, despite some 600,000 security forces being deployed to contain any violence, police tell the news agency.

Opposition alliance leader Kamal Hossain called Sunday's vote "flawed" and he called for a new vote under a neutral administration "as soon as possible," according to Reuters. His party won just seven parliamentary seats, AP reports.

"We've had bad elections in the past but I must say that it is unprecedented how bad this particular election was," Hossain told Reuters. He said candidates witnessed ballot-stuffing, vote-rigging and the barring of opposition polling agents from voting centers by ruling party activists.

The Election Commission will investigate the allegations, which the ruling party deny.

The last time Bangladesh went to the polls in 2014, the BNP boycotted the election, more than half the parliamentary seats went uncontested and violence left at least 18 people dead.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

After election day violence that claimed more than a dozen lives, the ruling party in Bangladesh has won another term. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been in power since 2009. And out of 300 seats in Parliament, Hasina's party, the Awami League, won 288. The opposition is crying foul. NPR's Sushmita Pathak reports from Mumbai.

SUSHMITA PATHAK, BYLINE: The opposition alliance only bagged seven seats. Its leader, Kamal Hossain, is alleging that the vote was manipulated by the ruling party. Here he is talking to NDTV.

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KAMAL HOSSAIN: Over a hundred candidates rejected it and left the election and moved out. And so therefore, there is no doubt that this is an election which is totally unacceptable, as are its results.

PATHAK: The opposition is demanding fresh elections under a neutral government. Even before polling began, few were confident that the elections would be free and fair. Hasina's opponents had complained they weren't able to campaign freely. They say they were intimidated and couldn't organize, all allegations Hasina's party denies.

On Sunday, there were reports of ballot stuffing. Some opposition supporters claimed they were threatened by workers of the ruling party as they went to cast their ballot. Despite some 600,000 security forces being deployed, more than a dozen people were killed during voting. The Bangladesh Election Commission says it's looking into allegations of vote rigging, which the ruling party rejects. The week leading up to the election saw violent clashes between supporters of the rival political groups.

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PATHAK: Protests continued into election day. For Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, this will be her third straight term in office. Over the last decade, she's had a good track record of economic growth and has been applauded for her handling of the Rohingya refugee crisis. But political analysts say her latest victory indicates Bangladesh is inching closer to authoritarianism.

Hasina was weighed down by allegations of human rights abuses and cracking down on free speech leading up to the election. Her administration drew flak earlier this year for arresting prominent Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam after he criticized her government. Her archrival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, was imprisoned on corruption charges in February and wasn't eligible to run.

The United States had sent observers to monitor the election in Bangladesh but has yet to respond to the results. Meanwhile, India's prime minister, Narendra Modi, called Hasina early Monday to congratulate her. Sushmita Pathak, NPR News, Mumbai.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEV'S "WHILE YOU'RE FADING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.