Bangladesh’s main opposition faces debacle in local govt polls

  • HT Correspondent, Dhaka
  • Updated: Dec 31, 2015 23:21 IST
Bangladeshi people sing their national anthem as they mark the moment when the Pakistan army surrendered at this place on this day in 1971, in Dhaka, Bangladesh (AP)

Bangladesh’s main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has fared poorly in local government polls conducted across the country amid sporadic violence and allegations of intimidation.

The ruling Awami League party’s landslide victory in the municipality polls means it has consolidated its grip on power following the 2014 national election, which was boycotted by the BNP led by former premier Khaleda Zia.

This is the first time in Bangladesh’s history that local government elections were held on partisan lines. They were an acid test for the Election Commission, often criticised by the opposition as a “puppet” of the government.

Following voting on Wednesday, unofficial results showed the Awami League had bagged 180 mayoral posts while the BNP got 23, independents 27 and the Jatiya Party one.

Results were still coming in on Thursday, and an official announcement was due.

The polls were held in 234 municipalities amid heightened security. More than 12,000 candidates contested for about 3,000 posts for mayors and councillors.

Authorities deployed 100,000 police and paramilitary personnel for the voting. At least one man died and more than 100 were injured on Wednesday but, given Bangladesh’s history, the election was relatively peaceful.

The ruling Awami League welcomed the outcome but the BNP accused the government of intimidation, rigging and manipulation, calling the elections “a farce”.

The exact turnout is not yet known but long queues of voters, especially women, were seen across the country. But some media reports said false voting was rampant in some polling centres.

Experts said the polls are significant for Bangladesh, which has been ruled by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has since late 2008, when the Awami League-led alliance came to power. She returned to power in a January 2014 election, boycotted by the BNP and its allies, who said they would not take part in any election under Hasina’s watch. BNP’s main Islamist partner, the Jamaat-e-Islami, too was out of the race.

Experts said returning to the electoral process was important for the BNP, which has struggled to form any successful anti-government movement while many of its leaders and activists are on the run after being accused of violence during a January-March 2015 movement to oust the government.

Political violence during the first three months of this year left about 150 people dead as the BNP and its partners led an anti-government movement to demand a fresh election. But Hasina’s government crushed that movement, frustrating the opposition.

“Whatever the result would be, it was politically significant for the BNP to return to the electoral process,” Afsan Chowdhury, a researcher and journalist, told Somoy TV.

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