19 killed in Bangladesh polls hit by violence, opposition boycott

Written by PTI | Dhaka | Updated: Jan 7 2014, 02:48am hrs
The ruling Awami League was today poised to win Bangladesh's general election marred by deadly clashes, a low turnout and a boycott by opposition parties, even as 19 people were killed in poll-related violence.

Most voters preferred to stay at home fearing violence

during the polling in 147 out of 300 constituencies in 59 districts. Candidates in other constituencies would be declared elected unopposed due to the boycott, officials said.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by former prime minister Khaleda Zia boycotted the polls after her arch-rival and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina rejected the opposition's demand for a neutral caretaker regime for election oversight.

Deadly violence flared across the country despite tens of thousands of security personnel deployed to maintain law and order. Police said 16 people, mostly opposition cadres, and a security personnel were killed today after the overnight deaths of an election officer and two other persons.

A total of 390 candidates, mostly from the Awami League and its ally Jatiya Party, contested from 147 seats where the number of voters was nearly 44 million.

Protesters hurled crude bombs at polling centres and stole ballot papers during the "one-sided" contest boycotted by the opposition. Voting was suspended at 160 centres due to torching of booths and snatching of ballot boxes and papers. Opposition cadres set over 200 polling stations on fire.

Hasina's Awami League was set for a sweeping victory in the polls as the outcome was never in doubt because of the boycott. The party expressed satisfaction at the turnout.

"The party which will win the election will form the government and run the country," top Awami League leader Tofail Ahmed said.

While BNP said the people have said no to the "one-sided" polls. "People have rejected the government by saying no to its expectation of clutching to power through the one-sided election," BNP acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said soon after polling ended.

The opposition yesterday enforced a 48-hour nationwide strike aimed at derailing the polls. It today announced another 48-hour strike beginning tomorrow. The opposition alliance will enforce the fresh shutdown alongside the ongoing indefinite blockade of rail, roads and waterways.

The Election Commission has not yet announced the official turnout in 10th parliamentary election.

Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad said boycott by some political parties and thick fog were reasons for the low voter turnout. He, however, claimed the polls were "fair".

The counting of votes started soon after polling ended at 4pm (local time).

The BNP-led opposition had demanded postponement of the polls and setting up of a non-party caretaker government, but Hasina rejected the demands. Political violence during strikes enforced by the opposition since November have left over 150 people dead.

However, Hasina said she would be willing to dissolve the new parliament after the polls and hold fresh elections if the BNP gives up violence and cuts its ties with the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami.

Earlier, BNP chief Zia and her exiled son, party senior vice chairman Tarique Rahman, separately issued calls to boycott the polls.

"No one at home and abroad will recognise it as election and through this the Awami League government will appear anew as an illegal structure," Zia had said. The former prime minister described the polls as a "stigmatised farce".

Zia has been virtually under house arrest since late last month, with no one allowed to either enter or exit her Dhaka residence that has been encircled by security forces.

There were no observers for the election from the European Union, the US and the UK, which described the polls as flawed without the participation of the opposition.

State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said the US was "disappointed" by the non-participation of major political parties.

India, closely watching political developments in the neighbouring country, has expressed hope that the people of Bangladesh would overcome their differences through peaceful means.

A similar poll in 1996, boycotted by the then opposition Awami League, witnessed a mere 7 per cent turnout and forced Zia-led BNP government to call for fresh polls within months under a neutral non-party caretaker system.