Bangladesh opposition leader rejects election as 'farcical'

File Pic. PTI

Several diplomats this correspondent spoke to cited how the Opposition had hardly raised any questions about the Awami League's poll pledges during the campaign, saying this suggested that the ruling party's record on economy was undisputed.

While the election commission has said it will investigate claims of vote-rigging, the organisation has itself been accused of bias by the opposition.

As many as 299 out of the 300 parliamentary seats were up for election that took place across Bangladesh from 8am to 4pm, and early results last evening had indicated an unprecedented polls defeat for BNP and its alliance. "It is more a controlled selection", said a diplomat who asked not to be named. But its leaders, candidates such as Khan, and workers say they are facing violent attacks and intimidation, including shootings and arrests, that have stunted their ability to campaign.

Bangladesh's leading English-language newspaper, the Daily Star, said 16 people were killed in 13 districts in election-related violence on Sunday. At least one of the victims was attacked by a machete-carrying group, police said. Flag-waving supporters of the ruling Awami League marched in Dhaka and other cities ahead of the official close of campaigning early Friday. "If you try to enter, you will be in trouble'", Rasel, who declined to give his second name fearing reprisals, told Reuters by phone.

Ataur Rahman, who chairs the bipartisan think-tank Centre for Governance Studies (CGS), said the dominance of the party in power, violence across the country, and police cases against the opposition were all concerns.

As many as 18 people lost their lives, a majority of them were Awami League leaders and supporters.

A joint statement by 25 human rights organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Amnesty International, had called for Alam's "immediate and unconditional release" and slammed the allegations against him as "a blatant violation of his right to freedom of expression".

Initial trends indicated a landslide victory for the Awami League and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina returning to power.

Almost five years later, the same opposition political parties including the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalists Party (BNP) are in the race amid accusations that election authorities are not ensuring a level playing field. The party has been hobbled by the absence of Khaleda, 74, who has been in jail since February on corruption charges which she says are politically motivated.

Hasina focused a speech broadcast by video late Wednesday to supporters in Dhaka on the impressive economic growth of the past decade.

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Calling on all voters and candidates, she said: "We don't want violence".

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (R) flashes the victory symbol after casting her vote, as her daughter Saima Wazed Hossain and her sister Sheikh Rehana look on at a polling station in Dhaka on 30 December, 2018. "The "boat" will surely win". She believes in democracy and has confidence in the country's people.

However, the Election Commission has so far confirmed the complete result of only one constituency in southwestern Gopalganj from where Hasina won bagging 229,539 votes, while her BNP opponent got only 123 votes.

On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on all stakeholders in Bangladesh's election "to ensure an environment free of violence, intimidation and coercion before, during and after the elections".

The unofficial results were expected by Monday morning which would be announced by the commission headquarters in the capital, he said.

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Over the same period, annual sales of its economic mainstay, the garment industry, almost trebled, with garment exports worth $30.6 billion in 2017/18, making up 83.5 per cent of total exports.

Hasina embarked on a two-story, 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) bridge tapping government coffers rather than the World Bank's proffered loans.

At a polling booth in old Dhaka on Sunday, some were afraid to comment on the polls, describing an atmosphere of fear.

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