DHAKA, January 7, 2014: The Awami League led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is set to form the new government Bangladesh after winning an absolute majority in the January 5 parliamentary elections boycotted by the Opposition.
The Election Commission received the results of 139 out of the 147 seats for which polling was held. At least 25 people, including law enforcers and poll officials, were killed in attacks by the anti-election activists.
The violence also saw torching of more than 150 polling centres by Opposition activists forcing the Election Commission to order re-election in the eight constituencies.
The Awami League won 104 seats.
Having already won 127 seats uncontested, the ruling party has 231 seats under its belt, giving it a clear three-fourths majority in the new Parliament.
The Jatiya Party, which won 33 seats, is likely to be the main Opposition, while the Workers Party got 6, Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) got 5 and Tarikat Federation 1. A total of 13 independent candidates, mostly rebels from the ruling party, defeated the official candidates.
At her press conference on Monday, Ms. Hasina asked her arch-rival Khaleda Zia to “give up terrorism and the Jamaat-e-Islami,” and work towards a dialogue to hold the next election, indicating a possible mid-term.
Referring to the massive violence resorted to by the Opposition to foil the polls, Sheikh Hasina said: “They must stop the violent hartals.” and blockades that people no longer care about. They must stop killing people with Molotov cocktails.”
Election Commission Secretary Mohammad Sadiq said voting had to be stopped at 540 polling centres out of 18,000 — roughly three per cent of the total number of polling centres due to massive “Opposition-sponsored violence”.
At least 21 persons died in poll violence on Sunday and over 100 polling centres were set on fire in the run-up to the polls and on election day.
The Awami League chief also said “a new election” might be arranged if the two major parties — Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party — reach an agreement. “I am happy that people voted, whatever we got was enough,” said the Prime Minister, replying to journalists who asked about low turnouts.
On the widely debated issue of low turnout, the Election Commission said it was as expected in view of the poll boycott, but said anything above 40 per cent would be satisfying. However, the commission did not provide exact polling figures, saying this would take time to collate.
The polling was low in the northern and western strongholds of the BNP and Jamaat, where polling centres were torched and poll officials and ruling party members attacked. But in many areas across the country including greater Chittagong, Dhaka and Barisal regions, it was remarkably high, according to unofficial estimates.
In the 1996 elections — with Khaleda Zia as the Prime Minister which the then Opposition Awami League had boycotted, polling was only 26 per cent. Even the legality of those was not in question as Parliament passed the Constitution’s 13th amendment incorporating the “neutral caretaker system”, said one political analyst, arguing that the new Parliament may be controversial in the eyes of the parties which kept away but in no way could it be termed “illegal”.
Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad did not hide his disappointment that all the parties did not contest. However, he claimed that fair elections had been held at 97 per cent of the polling centres.
Though the Awami League has expressed satisfaction with the polls, the BNP and Jamaat termed them “a farce”, calling a fresh 48-hour shutdown demanding their cancellation. However, the call received only lukewarm response in the changed environment.
‘Smooth and peaceful’
A South Asian group of electoral management bodies has observed that the elections have been conducted “smoothly and quite peacefully”. Ashutosh Jindal, who is one of the four members of the Forum for Election Management Bodies-South Asia (FEMBoSA), however, said they found “good” turnout in some polling booths and in some others it was “not so high”.
The European Union and the U.S. did not send their observers. However, some local observers said voter turnout was “very low” as many candidates had not tried to encourage the voters to exercise their franchise and, on the other hand, the extent of violence was huge.