Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has secured a fifth term in office after a landslide victory in the general election held on Sunday, January 7, 2024. The election was boycotted by the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which accused Hasina’s government of rigging the vote and cracking down on dissent.
According to the Election Commission, Hasina’s ruling Awami League and its allies won 292 out of 300 parliamentary seats, while the BNP-led alliance won only seven seats. The turnout was reported to be 40 percent, but some observers and media outlets said it was much lower, citing empty polling stations and low voter enthusiasm.
Hasina, who has been in power since 2009, hailed the election as free and fair, and thanked the people for their “overwhelming” support. She said her government would work for the development and prosperity of the country, and urged the opposition to accept the verdict of the people.
However, the BNP rejected the results, calling them “farcical” and “a mockery of democracy”. The party’s acting chief, Tarique Rahman, who lives in exile in London, said the election was a “sham” designed to cement Hasina’s rule. He said the BNP and its allies would not recognize the new parliament, and demanded a fresh election under a neutral caretaker government.
The election was marred by violence, allegations of intimidation, and arrests of opposition activists and journalists. At least 17 people were killed in clashes between rival supporters and security forces on the polling day. The BNP said thousands of its candidates and workers were harassed, attacked, or barred from campaigning by the ruling party and the police. The Awami League denied the charges, and accused the BNP of trying to create chaos and sabotage the election.
The election was also criticized by international observers and human rights groups, who expressed concerns over the credibility and inclusiveness of the vote. The United
States, the European Union, and the United Nations urged the authorities to investigate the reports of irregularities and violence, and called for dialogue and reconciliation among all parties.
Hasina, the daughter of Bangladesh’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, is widely credited for overseeing rapid economic growth, reducing poverty, improving infrastructure, and empowering women and girls in the country. However, she is also accused of becoming increasingly authoritarian, suppressing dissent, curbing press freedom, and undermining democratic institutions.
The BNP, led by former prime minister Khaleda Zia, who is serving a 17-year jail term for corruption, is Hasina’s arch-rival. The party has been weakened by a series of defections, court cases, and internal divisions. The BNP boycotted the previous election in 2014, allowing Hasina to win a third consecutive term unopposed. The party hoped to challenge Hasina this time, by forming an alliance with several smaller parties, including the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami, which was banned from contesting the election.
The election was seen as a crucial test for Bangladesh’s democracy, which has been plagued by political turmoil, violence, and military coups since its independence from Pakistan in 1971. The country, which is one of the world’s most populous and densely populated, faces many challenges, such as climate change, social inequality, religious extremism, and the influx of Rohingya refugees from neighboring Myanmar.