- Web Master
- February 13, 2024
Nava Thakuria, January 7, 2023
Bangladesh embraces 12th general elections (since its birth as a nation in
1971) on Sunday, a working day in the Muslim majority country, amidst violence
and uncertainties as the prime opposition party has boycotted the polls.
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) also called for a 48-hour Hartal (general
strike) beginning from 6 am on 6 January till 6 am on 8 January alleging that
the election under the incumbent Awami League (AL) government led by Prime
Minister Sheikh Hasina will never be fair and fair. Jamaat-e-Islami, a radical
party of Bangladesh, took out processions in the capital city of Dhaka in
support of the Hartal, apprehending turmoil on the poll day. After BNP’s
absence only a compromised opposition Jatiya Party remains in the fray. The
rest (nearly 25 political parties putting their candidates) are mostly allies
to the ruling party. So understandably PM Hasina is winning for the fourth
consecutive term to lead the poverty stricken south Asian nation, which is
strategically located between India and Myanmar.
The polling of votes began on 8 in the morning (Bangladesh is ahead of India
by 30 minutes) where 120 million registered electorates will exercise their
franchise to elect 299 representatives for the Jatiya Sansad (election in one
constituency was postponed due to the death of an independent candidate). More
than 1500 candidates representing over 27 political parties are contesting the
national election, whose fates will be decided by the voters through over
42,000 polling stations across the country. The polling will continue till 4 in
the afternoon and counting of ballots to start subsequently making the results
out by Monday morning.
Meanwhile PM Hasina, accompanied by her sister Sheikh Rehana and daughter
Saima Wazed, exercised her franchise as the first voter in Dhaka City College
polling station and expressed confidence to win the polls. Over 750,000 police
and paramilitary forces have been deployed on the ground, where Bangladesh
Army, Navy, and Air Force personnel will also be on duty to ensure security to
170 million Bangladeshi nationals during the polls. More than 150 foreign
observers representing over 30 countries and organisations like the
Commonwealth, European Union, US-based International Republican Institute,
South Asia Democratic Forum, National Democratic Institute, etc arrived in
Dhaka to monitor the election. Three senior members of the Election Commission
of India also joined the mission.
Bangladesh chief election commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal assured that the
election will be conducted in a free, fair and neutral manner. Each and every
Bangladeshi voter can go to the polling centre to exercise their franchises,
stated Awal adding that the Bangladesh polls should be observed by the national
as well as international agencies. Even though the main opposition party (BNP)
is not in the fray, it should not be a major challenge to the election
commission, he added. Any obstruction of the electoral processes will not be
tolerated, asserted the election commission.
However, the prelude to the polls witnessed a series of violent incidents in
the country. The burning of Benapole Express’s four coaches on Friday night by
the miscreants resulted in the death of five passengers including two children
and injuries to many others. The incident took place in Gopibagh area as the
train was moving towards Kamlapur railway station in Dhaka. Next morning, a
polling station (under Bandar police station) and a vehicle were set ablaze in
Chittagong locality. PM Hasina expressed shock over the casualties and prayed
for an early recovery to all injured persons.
Maintaining its demand to conduct the polls under a neutral and caretaker
government, which Hasina denied, the BNP and its political allies organised a
number of political rallies in the country. But the mass rally on 28 October
turned violent, where at least four people were killed and nearly 300 vehicles
torched on the streets. The government in Dhaka started a massive crackdown and
put thousands of BNP leaders (including its secretary general Mirza Fakhrul
Islam Alamgir) and workers behind the bars.
BNP’s president Khaleda Zia (78) is ailing and with more to it the former
Bangla Prime Minister is under house arrest for graft charges. Even the party’s
acting president Tarique Rahman has been living in self-imposed exile since
2008. Son of former Bangla President Ziaur Rahman and Zia, even faced 18 months
jail term before leaving to London and staying there till date. So the party
has been termed as a leaderless entity on the ground and they are assumed not
to be in a position to contest the elections.
Speaking to this writer from Dhaka, political analyst Abdul Kalam revealed
that this is really an opposition-less election as even Jatiya Party also
received favour from the ruling AL. Initially, Jatiya Party was also planning
to boycott the election along with the BNP and its allies. Soon the ruling
party vacated 26 seats for it, withdrawing the nominees to get the only
opposition party in the fray. The ruling AL fielded candidates in 263
constituencies and offered six seats to its political allies under Mahajoat.
Hasina’s party also encouraged more AL leaders to file nominations so that the election
can be shown as a participatory one. Among 400 independent candidates, one can
find many AL leaders as dummies, asserted Kalam.
Hasina (76) continues to win the parliamentary elections in 2008, 2014, and
2019 to already emerge as the longest-serving government head among women in
the world. Daughter of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Hasina urged the
Bangladeshi voters to exercise their franchises in more numbers. She claimed
that only AL can lead the country to prosperity and growth. In the election
manifesto, Hasina promised to convert the digital Bangladesh to a Smart
Bangladesh. She also assured that her party will always protect and promote the
spirit of democracy, offer quality education to youths, modernise agriculture,
make healthcare services affordable to all, etc.