Bangladesh election hit by violence, boycott; Awami League set to win

Amidst high security voting has begun in violence-hit Bangladesh on Sunday despite opposition boycotted the election labelling it a `farcical` contest.

Zee Media Bureau/Tarun Khanna and Supriya Jha

Dhaka: Violence and chaos were the order of the day in Bangladesh on Sunday when the polling was held amidst high security even as the opposition boycotted the polls as a `farcical` contest.

The ruling Awami Leauge is set to win the polls, with 153 of its candidates being elected unopposed.

An election, which the opposition left no stone unturned to disrupt, has been boycotted by the opposition alliance led by Khaleda zia`s Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

Fierce clashes erupted as police took on the opposition activists, hell-bent on disrupting elections by attacking polling centres and blocking transport.

At least 21 people have been killed in the violence today, reported the Daily Star.

Among those killed were 17 activists of 18-party opposition alliance and 1 Ansar member, who was beaten to death. The 11 were killed in Dinajpur, Rangpur, Nilphamari, Feni, Munshiganj and Laxmipur districts, added the report.

An Awami Leaugue leader, Motiur Rahman Hawlader, was stabbed to death while he was on his way to the polling station at Helena Khatuna Higher Secondary School, police said.

Also, a bunch of handmade bombs were lobbed outside two polling centres - Kadamtali`s Anirban Pre-Cadet School and Sirajuddin Primary School of Chakbazaar area, injuring four, said local media reports.

The election results are to be out by Monday morning however, Sheikh Hasina`s govt is sure to manage a sweeping victory as 153 of its leaders have already been elected unopposed.

The voting turnout till 3 pm was unmentionably low as the country`s election commissioner avoided to give any estimate of the people who had turned out to vote.

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad attributed the low turnout to the boycott of election and the fog in some northern districts.

Asked about the voter turnout percentage, he said that they had not gathered data from all the constituencies.

"The fact that all political parties are not participating in the election has contributed to the low turn up," Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad said at a press conference around 1:45pm, reported the Daily Star.

The voting was held from 8 am to 4 pm at about 18,000 polling stations set in schools and other public buildings.

Various polling stations were firebombed by the opposition activists.

Voting was postponed in 161 polling stations due to attacks, Xinhua quoted an anonymous election commission official as saying.

According to the security officials, over 375,000 security personnel were deployed across Bangladesh to maintain peace and nearly 50,000 army troops were kept on vigil. Paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh and elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion forces are maintaining security in the country.

More than 100 people were killed since opposition began a campaign to boycott elections last year which led to detention of several opposition leaders and activists. Most of the turmoil has been seen in rural areas.
As less than half of parliamentary seats are being contested, Awami League headed by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is bound to sweep to victory. The polls will be held in just 147 out of 300 seats in 59 out of 64 districts of the country.

Yesterday, over 130 polling stations were torched and a polling officer was killed in Northern Bangladesh which is likely to adversely affect the voter turnout. Awami League has accused BNP of orchestrating the violence.

While opposition views that election lacks credibility, analysts warn it will likely erupt violence in a country which has already witnessed bloodiest history when it was liberated from Pakistan way back in 1971.

Furthermore, Bangladesh National Party vice chairman Tarique Rahman, former prime minister Khaleda Zia`s son, on Saturday urged Bangladesh voters to boycott election at any cost. Zia too had earlier made a similar call for boycotting the poll. The opposition had also warned the government of dire consequences if the latter didn`t cancel election.

On the other hand, Election Commission sent a text message yesterday urging people to vote in large numbers amidst tight security.

Hasina, who beat two-time premier Zia in a December 2008 election, has accused her bitter rival of holding the country hostage in the name of strikes and blockades. Moreover, she has refused opposition demand for her to step down and for a neutral government to oversee the poll.

Two decades ago, both the women had ousted a dictator and ushered in a new era of democracy in the country. However, they later became arch rivals.