Bangladesh: Sheikh Hasina wins fourth straight term in elections boycotted by Opposition

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Photo courtesy: The Quint.

By Our Correspondent

NEW DELHI—Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has secured the fourth consecutive term in
power, with her Awami League party winning two-thirds of the seats in January 7 general elections,
which were boycotted by the main Opposition party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and its allies,
leading to a low turnout of the voters. The elections in India’s neighbouring country were also marred by
sporadic violence.

Sheikh Hasina, 76, who has been ruling the South Asian nation since 2009, won a record fourth
successive term and the fifth overall term in the one-sided election. Awami League general secretary
Obaidul Quader claimed that the people had rejected the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami’s boycott of the
election by casting their ballots. He said the people had participated in elections despite the fear of
arson and vandalism.

The boycott by BNP, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, and its allies came mainly from the
activists of these parties working at the grassroots. The ostensible reason for the decision was the
government’s rejection of the demand to hold elections under a caretaker dispensation. The Awami
League government’s contention was that the law does not permit this arrangement.

Sheikh Hasina is the world’s longest-serving female Prime Minister. Her government jailed most of the
top Opposition leaders of BNP, including Secretary-General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, and thousands
of party workers before the polls. Amid the confrontation, the BNP leaders affirmed that they will not
participate in the elections, as the polls would not be free and fair under the Awami League’s rule.

This was the 12th national parliamentary election in Bangladesh after its independence in 1971. Sheikh
Hasina won the Gopalganj-3 seat for the eighth time since 1986. She bagged 2,49,965 votes while her
nearest rival M. Nizamuddin Lashkar from the Bangladesh Supreme Party secured just 469 votes. Jatiya
Party Chairman G.M. Quader won the Rangpur-3 seat in the election.

According to the initial estimates, the voter turnout was about 42%. Despite the largely peaceful
voting, at least 18 arson attacks were reported across the country and 10 of them targeted the places
where polling was being held. The BNP has dubbed the polls as fake and announced its plans to
intensify the anti-government movement through a peaceful public engagement programme, which
would establish people’s right to vote.

The voting took place in 299 of the 300 constituencies, as the polling was suspended at one seat
because of the death of a candidate. The usual election day fervour was conspicuous by its absence.
There was no presence of voters even in front of the election campaign booths, where only the ruling
party-backed supporters and agents were present.

Sheikh Hasina cast her vote, accompanied by her daughter Saima Wazed, at Dhaka City College polling
centre soon after the voting started. She alleged that the Opposition alliance did not believe in
democracy, while the government had created an environment conducive to enabling the people to
vote as they wished.
The 27 political parties, which contested the elections, included the Opposition Jatiya Party. The rest
were members of the ruling Awami League-led coalition. A total of 11.96 crore registered voters were
eligible to vote at more than 42,000 polling stations. More than 1,500 candidates of political parties
and 436 Independents contested the polls.

Over 100 foreign observers, including three from India, monitored the elections, which was held under
tight security measures. The U.S. State Department said the elections were not free and fair, and added
that Washington was concerned by reports of vote irregularities. The British government’s foreign office
also condemned what it called “acts of intimidation and violence”.

Bangladesh had a technocrat election-time government known as the caretaker government to oversee
four elections in 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2008. The system was codified into the Constitution in 1996 to
oversee the national election and a peaceful handover of power. But in 2011, after the Supreme Court
ruled in favour of the amendment in the system, the Awami League used its two-thirds majority in the
Parliament to abolish the system by amending the Constitution.

In her first press conference after her electoral victory, Sheikh Hasina said that India is a great friend
of Bangladesh. “India supported us in 1975, gave us shelter. India is our next-door neighbour and
whatever problems we will have with each other we will solve bilaterally. We have good relations
with all our neighbours,” she said, while reaffirming that the elections were free and fair.

Sheikh Hasina promised that during the next five years, the main focus of the Bangladesh
government would be on economic progress and fulfilling all the work that it had earlier started. “We
will follow our election manifesto whenever we prepare our budget and try to fulfil our promises.
Development of the people and our country is our main aim,” she said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has congratulated Sheikh Hasina on being re-elected as the Prime
Minister of Bangladesh. “Spoke with PM Sheikh Hasina and congratulated her on her victory for a
historic fourth consecutive term in the Parliamentary elections. I also congratulate the people of
Bangladesh for the successful conduct of the elections. We are committed to further strengthening
our enduring and people-centric partnership with Bangladesh,” Modi said in his message posted on a
social media platform.

Sheikh Hasina’s landmark victory holds relevance for India as well, as the political stability in its
neighbouring country is vital for India. With its 4,100-km-long border with India, Bangladesh has a
history of housing some anti-India elements. Under Sheikh Hasina’s administration, Bangladesh has
cooperated extensively with the Indian security agencies to control militant activities.

On the economic front too, Sheikh Hasina’s victory is significant for India. Bangladesh has emerged as
the second-largest economy in the region, surpassing Pakistan. The economic ties between India and
Bangladesh have been on an upward trajectory, with bilateral trade reaching 14.2 billion U.S. dollars in
2022-23.

India has been a key contributor to Bangladesh’s economic growth, offering over 7 billion U.S. dollars in
Line of Credit for infrastructure and development projects since 2010. Moreover, Bangladesh’s gross
domestic product (GDP) of 460 billion U.S. dollars in 2022 positions it as an attractive market for Indian
goods with the potential to foster mutual economic benefits.

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