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Polling stations firebombed amid controversial Bangladeshi elections

Crescent International

Poverty and violence are two characteristics frequently associated with Bangladesh. Today's election that was boycotted by all the opposition parties was marred by killings and firebombing of polling stations. Turnout was extremely low. While the “incumbent” prime minister Hasina Wajed may claim victory, the extremely low turnout and boycott by international observers have cast serious doubts about its validity.

Dhaka, Crescent-online
Sunday, January 5, 2014, 10:37 EST

In what is turning out to be one of the bloodiest elections in Bangladesh history, polling stations have been firebombed and police attacked in various parts of the country. Reports said at least 19 people were killed today. This figure may rise as reports from far-flung areas come in.

The police confirmed that some 200 polling stations were firebombed and thousands of ballot papers taken away by angry protesters. For the first three hours when the polls opened, there was not a single person seen anywhere coming to vote, according to local television footage.

Polls closed at 4 pm local time but turnout was extremely low because of a boycott call by the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) that is allied with 21 other parties. Its leader and former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia has been under virtual house arrest with a heavy contingent of police blocking her house.

The incumbent Awami League party led by Hasina Wajed insisted on going ahead with the polls even though 77 percent of Bangladeshis are opposed to elections under such circumstances, according to a poll published in the Dhaka Tribune on Friday.

The country has been in turmoil for nearly a year and more than 500 people have been killed in election-related violence. The BNP had demanded that elections be held under a caretaker government as has happened for many past elections. Begum Zia does not trust Wajed. The two ladies have an intense dislike of each other.

Concerned about violence, the European Union, the US and Commonwealth refused to send observers to oversee the polls. Their credibility has been further undermined by the very low turnout and violence as well as the fact that 153 of the 300 seats had already been “won” by the ruling Awami Party because the opposition had boycotted them. The contest today was for only 147 seats.

While Hasina Wajed may consider the election a walkover and claim “victory”, it will not end the violence. Begum Zia denounced the elections as a “scandalous farce.”

In the past, the military has had to intervene in order to supervise elections as happened five years ago. It is likely to be a repeat this time as well although the generals may get fed up with the constant bickering among politicians and decide to grab power.

The survey published in the Dhaka Tribune on Friday found that 37 per cent of the people would vote for the BNP if they had the chance. This is ahead of the ruling Awami League and with BNP allies the party would easily form the new government.

More violence and turmoil can be expected in the country of nearly 170 million, one-third of whose population lives below the poverty line.


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