Bangladesh’s main opposition called for a fresh vote on Sunday as the country’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, and her ruling Awami League were declared the winners of an election tainted by violence and vote-rigging allegations.
At least 17 people were said to have been killed in election day clashes, while reports flowed in of alleged vote manipulation and people being blocked from entering polling stations by ruling party supporters.
As Mrs Hasina’s alliance sailed past the 151 seats needed to form a government and headed for a landslide third consecutive term, the country’s main opposition leader called for the “farcical” election to be declared void.
Kamal Hossain, head of the Jatiya Oikya Front (JOF), the largest opposition alliance, told a press conference in Dhaka that votes had been “rigged on a massive scale across the country”.
He urged Bangladesh’s election commission to dismiss the result and call “fresh elections under a non-partisan caretaker government as soon as possible”.
Election Commission Secretary Helal Uddin Ahmed finished delivering the results of the voting early on Monday.
Ahmed said the ruling Awami League-led alliance won 288 seats while the JOF, led by former president H.M.Ershad, had 20 seats. An opposition alliance led by Mr Hossain had only seven and others got three out of 300 seats.
The poll followed a campaign that had been marred by violence and a crackdown on freedom of speech. Human Rights Watch and other international groups had decried repressive measures which they said had created a climate of fear.
Some 600,000 security personnel had been deployed for the election, while authorities ordered the shutdown of high speed internet to prevent the spread of “rumours” that might spark unrest.
On Sunday, polling agents alleged that they had stayed away out of fear. Others claimed they had been beaten up and forced out of voting centres.
Rumana Mahmood, a JOF candidate in Sirajganj, 68 miles northwest of Dhaka, claimed that 90 percent of her supporters had been prevented from voting for her.
“In most cases they were not allowed to enter the voting centres. Police and the ruling Awami League party cadres blocked them,” she alleged to the Telegraph, claiming that supporters of the ruling party had stuffed ballot boxes in favour of the government.
One 65-year-old woman in Ms Mahmood’s constituency claimed that the police had not allowed her to vote freely.
“We were around 20 or 25 women from the same locality. The policemen at the gate of the centre said that he would allow us inside if we voted for the boat (symbol of the Awami League),” she said.”In my locality there are hundreds of people who have not been allowed in any voting centre today.”
Bangladesh has become increasingly authoritarian under Mrs Hasina’s rule, moving closer towards a de-facto one-party state while Begum Khaleda Zia, her arch-rival, and leader of the largest opposition party, the Bangladesh National Party, serves a lengthy prison sentence on corruption charges.