Bangladesh concludes a violent general election
Polling stations have opened in what is probably the most controversial and violent general election in the short history of Bangladesh. During the campaign more than one hundred people have been killed in election related violence and scores of polling stations were torched yesterday as the opposition tried to prevent the poll from taking place.
The outcome of the election is already known because some twenty opposition parties, including the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by Khaleda Zia, are boycotting the election. That means that 154 of the 300 seats in the Jatiyo Sangshad or House of Nation (parliament) will be returned unopposed; of those the incumbent Awami League led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have taken 127 seats and the Jatiya Party has 21 seats.
All elections since 1991 have been held under a neutral caretaker administration to ensure that fixing didn’t take place. However, in 2010 the Awami League led government abolished the caretaker system saying it was no longer necessary. The BNP disagreed and ever since there have been general strikes and discord which has led to today’s boycott. The BNP appear to have the general public on their side in this matter with a majority believing that a caretaker government would be best during the lead up to a general election and with 77% in a recent poll saying they were against the election.
The poll today will be for 146 of the 300 seats with just 386 candidates remaining to contest those seats. Around 52% of eligible voters will not be required to vote today and only 43,938,938 voters in 59 districts are involved. There are 18,208 polling stations and around 50,000 troops have been deployed to protect them.
A poll conducted on Friday suggests that had the BNP contested the election they would have had a narrow victory over the Awami League.
A similar boycott was held in the February 1996 general election. On that occasion it was the Awami League doing the boycotting. Parliament lasted just eleven days before fresh elections were called for June and the Awami League won. Some observers are predicting a re-run of the 1996 scenario.
Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. and will close at 4 p.m. local time.