Sheikh Hasina: Bangladesh Prime Minister wins election marked by 60% abstention | International

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, 76, secured a fourth consecutive term in office, the country’s election commission reported Monday, with her ruling Awami League party securing nearly 75 percent of the seats contested in the general election . held this Sunday. The elections were marked by a boycott of the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and low turnout.

According to preliminary results published by the Election Commission, the Awami League obtained 223 seats out of a total of 298, lackluster results due to an abstention of around 60% of the electorate. When the polls closed, turnout stood at only 40% of voters, according to the head of the electoral commission, Kazi Habibul Awal. During the previous elections, in 2018, in which the main opposition party participated, this percentage of participation at the polls amounted to 80%. The BNP had called for abstention after Hasina rejected its demand to resign and consent to a neutral authority overseeing the holding of the elections.

Daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, considered the founding father of Bangladesh – killed in a military coup in 1975 along with most of his family – Hasina, 76, became prime minister in 1996. After her victory in 1996, he will now begin his mandate. Fifth term, the fourth in a row since 2009 he has never left power in this Asian country of around 170 million inhabitants.

During his final 15 years as prime minister, he was credited with turning around the country’s economy and huge textile industry, while earning international praise for welcoming Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in neighboring Myanmar . His detractors, however, accuse him of authoritarianism, human rights violations and repression of freedom of expression and dissent. His party, the Awami League, had virtually no rivals in the electoral districts in which it participated, but in some of them it did not present candidates, a strategy interpreted as a way to avoid that the Unicameral Parliament is not seen as an instrument of a single party.

Human rights groups had warned before the elections of the authoritarian drift of the Bangladeshi government, where the BNP, like other minor groups, was decimated by a massive wave of arrests. In 2023, some 25,000 opposition leaders, including all local BNP leaders, were arrested in a wave of repression that followed a series of protests, during which several people were killed in clashes with the police, according to this party. The government then reported 11,000 arrests.

On the eve of the elections, police arrested seven opponents, accusing them of starting a fire on a freight train in which four people died. Since last year, several attacks on the railway network have taken place, “deadly acts of sabotage” according to the police, who attribute responsibility to members of the main opposition party. This group denies any involvement in these events and accuses the authorities of being at the origin of these fires in order to accuse and imprison the opponents.

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Alongside the BNP, dozens of parties opposed to the government decided not to participate in the elections, believing that they would not be free or honest. They also feared that the irregularities of the previous elections, also won by the Prime Minister, would be repeated.

Hasina, for her part, called on voters to go to the polls to show their confidence in the democratic process: “The BNP is a terrorist organization,” she told the press on Sunday after voting in Dhaka, the capital city. The statement came after government opponents called a general strike for the weekend and urged people not to vote. “I am doing everything possible to ensure that democracy endures in this country,” the president said, promising “free and fair” elections.

Some voters said they were threatened with confiscation of their government benefit cards, necessary to receive social benefits, if they refused to vote for the Awami League. “They said that since the government feeds us, we should vote for it,” Lal Mia, 64, told Agence France Presse.

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