Dhaka, Bangladesh – Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina‘s Awami League (AL) party has won Bangladesh’s parliamentary vote, the country’s election commission has announced, after the main opposition alliance rejected the violence-marred polls.
Three-hundred seats were up for grabs in the 350-member parliament, or Jatiya Sangshad, in Sunday’s elections.Another 50 seats are reserved for women.
An AL-led coalition won a massive 288 seats, while the main opposition alliance dominated by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) secured just six.
In the last elections four years ago, which were boycotted by the BNP, the AL had won 234 seats. A party needs 151 seats to form a government.
“My congratulations to the Awami League,” Helal Uddin Ahmed, secretary of the Election Commission Secretariat, said in a televised address as he read the results.
Bangladesh’s ruling party had surged ahead within hours of the counting of the votes – an outcome the Jatiya Oikya Front, the BNP-led opposition alliance had feared.
In a hurriedly called news conference earlier on Sunday night, the leader of the Jatiya Oikya Front dubbed the election “farcical”.
“We reject the farcical election and want the election commission to hold a fresh election under a non-partisan administration,” said Kamal Hossain, an 82-year-old jurist who wrote the country’s secular constitution.
Hasina, who has headed the AL since 1981, went into the polls on the back of a decade of impressive GDP growth and booming garment exports. Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest exporter of garments after China.
The 71-year-old leader is set for a record fourth term in office in the South Asian Muslim-majority nation of 160 million.
The sheer scale of the victory, as of now, reveals the nature and scale of the rigging. It cannot be described as the verdict of the voters.
She has been applauded for hosting nearly one million Rohingya refugees who took shelter in Bangladesh after fleeing a brutal military offensive in neighbouring Myanmar.
But critics have accused Hasina of authoritarianism and crippling the opposition. Her bitter political rival and leader of the BNP, Khaleda Zia, 73, is serving a 17-year jail term for corruption.
Voting in the capital, Dhaka, was largely peaceful as convoys of soldiers and paramilitary forces were on the streets, where most traffic was banned.
At least 17 people were killed across the country in clashes between members of rival parties on Sunday despite the deployment of around 600,000 security personnel to prevent violence.
More than 40 opposition candidates pulled out of the election after polls opened, citing vote-rigging and ballot-stuffing, according to the Daily Star.
The opposition claimed thousands of its activists were arrested in the lead-up to the polls.
“We are getting disturbing reports outside Dhaka that overnight votes have been cast illegally,” said Hossain of Jatiya Oikya Front.
‘A travesty of an election’
Ali Riaz, professor at the department of politics and government at Illinois State University in the US, said: “It was a travesty of an election”.
“What happened throughout the country, polling centre by centre, from driving out the polling agents to ballot stuffing, can’t be called an election, let alone a credible election.
“The sheer scale of the victory, as of now, reveals the nature and scale of the rigging. It cannot be described as the verdict of the voters,” Riaz told Al Jazeera over the phone.
The elections commission said it would investigate allegations of vote rigging.
“Allegations are coming from across the country and those are under investigation,” SM Asaduzzaman, spokesperson for the elections commission told Reuters news agency. ”If we get any confirmation from our own channels then measures will be taken as per rules.”
Later, the election commission suspended voting at 22 centres across the country.
Syed Moazzem Hossain Alal, joint secretary-general of the BNP, the main party in the opposition alliance, called the election a “mockery”.
But Mahbubul Alam Hanif, joint secretary-general of the ruling party, said he was satisfied with Sunday’s vote.
“We are happy with the way the vote turned out. I believe Awami League will gain an absolute victory,” he said.
About 104 million people were registered to vote in the country’s 11th general election.
Additional reporting by Saqib Sarker from Dhaka