Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has clinched a resounding victory in Bangladesh’s parliamentary election, securing a fourth consecutive term for her and the ruling Awami League despite a turbulent campaign marked by violence and a boycott from the main opposition party. While the Election Commission delayed the official results, various TV stations, relying on their extensive networks of journalists, reported that the Awami League had won 216 seats out of the 299 contested. Independent candidates secured 52 seats, and the third-largest party in the country, the Jatiya Party, secured 11 seats. The final results for the remaining constituencies were still pending late into Sunday night.
The parliamentary election covered 299 out of 300 seats, with one seat facing a postponed election due to the death of an independent candidate, as required by law. The Election Commission is expected to make a final official declaration on Monday.
Despite at least 18 arson attacks leading up to the election, the actual polling day unfolded in relative calm. Turnout was reported to be around 40%, according to Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal. However, the main opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by former premier Khaleda Zia, rejected the election outcome, claiming that Bangladeshi voters had spurned what they deemed a one-sided election orchestrated by the government.
The pre-election period witnessed security incidents, including a deadly arson attack on a passenger train that resulted in four deaths. These incidents heightened tensions and underscored the polarized political landscape. The BNP, along with its allied groups, accused Hasina of transforming Bangladesh into a one-party state and suppressing dissent and civil society. Authorities, in turn, attributed much of the violence to the BNP, accusing it of attempting to undermine the election. On the eve of the election, seven individuals associated with the BNP were arrested for their alleged involvement in the train attack, a claim the party vehemently denied.
In another incident on election day, a supporter of an Awami League candidate was fatally stabbed in Munshiganj district near Dhaka, though the police did not immediately comment on the matter.
The victory for the 76-year-old Hasina, the longest-serving leader in the country, is accompanied by a contentious political landscape. The bitter rivalry between Hasina’s Awami League and the BNP, led by the ailing Khaleda Zia under house arrest on corruption charges, has been a defining feature of Bangladesh’s politics. This year’s election raised concerns about its credibility, given the absence of major challengers to the incumbent.
Public sentiment mirrored skepticism about the fairness of the election. Many citizens expressed dissatisfaction with the limited choices and perceived the atmosphere as not conducive to a “fair election.” Critics and rights groups pointed to a recurring pattern of allegations of vote-rigging in the past two elections under Hasina, accusations that the government vehemently denied. The BNP had been demanding a neutral caretaker government to oversee the election, a request rejected by the government.
Despite the government’s defense of the election, citing the participation of 27 parties and 404 independent candidates, analysts predicted an inevitable win for Hasina. Many candidates from the Awami League ran as independents, and smaller opposition parties were mostly marginalized, contributing to the perceived predictability of Hasina’s victory.
Michael Kugelman, Director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center, highlighted the lack of substantial challengers, stating, “The outcome is all but guaranteed, and that is that the Awami League will return (to power) again.” Concerns were raised about the precarious state of Bangladesh’s democracy once the election concluded.
Accusations of a sweeping crackdown against the BNP further marred the credibility of the election. The BNP claimed that around 20,000 of its members were unjustly jailed on trumped-up charges ahead of the vote, a figure disputed by the government, which asserted that arrests were politically neutral and numbered between 2,000 and 3,000. The country’s law minister, in an interview with the BBC, suggested that around 10,000 individuals were likely arrested.
Former minister and BNP leader Abdul Moyeen Khan revealed that the arrests forced him and numerous party members into hiding for weeks. He emphasized, “We are not boycotting an election — what we are boycotting is a fake and one-sided election that this government is carrying out.”
Sheikh Hasina, credited with transforming Bangladesh’s economy and global standing, faced criticism from opponents who contended that her leadership risked turning the country into a one-party state, with growing concerns about democracy being undermined.
While Hasina’s supporters lauded her economic achievements and efforts against military coups and Islamic militancy, critics argued that her administration stifled dissent, curtailed press freedoms, and restricted civil society. The global economic slowdown also exposed vulnerabilities in Bangladesh’s economy, leading to labor unrest and discontent.
Responding to concerns over the legitimacy of the vote after casting her ballot, Hasina asserted, “I’m trying my best to ensure that democracy should continue in this country.” She emphasized that being accountable to the people and their acceptance of the election results were paramount.
The fourth consecutive term secured by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh’s parliamentary election comes against a backdrop of controversy, with allegations of a one-sided and contentious electoral process. The widespread skepticism about the fairness of the election and the opposition’s rejection of the results raise questions about the future of democracy in Bangladesh.