Bangladesh election branded ‘farcical’ by opposition leader

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More than a dozen people were killed in election-related violence in Bangladesh on Sunday as voters went to the polls to decide whether to give Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina a third consecutive term.

It came  amid opposition claims  her leadership has become increasingly authoritarian.

The leader of Bangladesh’s opposition alliance called Sunday’s vote “farcical,” saying any outcome would be rejected and demanding a new election be held under the authority of a “non-partisan government.”

The election campaign was marred by allegations of arrests and jailing of thousands of Ms Hasina’s opponents.

Bangladesh Elections

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina flashes a victory sign as she speaks to the media after casting her vote in Dhaka (Anupam Nath/AP)

Opposition leader Kamal Hossain said a few hours after voting ended that about 100 candidates from the alliance had withdrawn from their races during the day.

He said the alliance would hold a meeting Monday to decide its next course.

“We call upon the Election Commission to declare this election void and demand a fresh election under a nonpartisan government,” Mr Hossain told reporters at a nationally broadcast news conference.

Calls to several Hasina aides seeking comment were not immediately returned.

Bangladesh Elections Opposition
Bangladesh’s opposition coalition leader Kamal Hossain speaks at his residence in Dhaka (Anupam Nath/AP)

In the run-up to the election, activists from both the ruling party and the opposition complained of attacks on supporters and candidates.

On Sunday, the Associated Press received more than 50 calls from people across the country who identified themselves as opposition supporters complaining of intimidation and threats, and being forced to vote in front of ruling party men inside polling booths.

“Some stray incidents have happened, we have asked our officials to deal with them,” KM Nurul Huda, Bangladesh’s chief election commissioner, said as he cast his vote in Dhaka, the capital.

The election campaign was marred by the arrests and jailing of what the opposition says are thousands of Ms Hasina’s opponents, including six candidates for Parliament.

At least a dozen people were killed in campaign-related clashes.

Bangladesh Elections
A Bangladeshi woman places her finger on a biometric reader for verification before casting her vote at a polling station in Dhaka (Anupam Nath/AP)

While rights groups have sounded the alarms about the erosion of Bangladesh’s democracy, Ms Hasina has promoted a different narrative, highlighting an ambitious economic agenda that has propelled Bangladesh past larger neighbours Pakistan and India by some development measures.

Voters “will give us another opportunity to serve them so that we can maintain our upward trend of development and take Bangladesh forward as a developing country,” Ms Hasina said after casting her ballot along with her daughter and sister in Dhaka.

Ms Hasina’s main rival is former prime minister Khaleda Zia, the leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, who a court deemed ineligible to run for office because she is in prison for corruption.

The two women have been in and out of power – and prison – for decades.

In Ms Zia’s absence, opposition parties formed a coalition led by Mr Hossain, an 82-year-old Oxford-educated lawyer and former member of Hasina’s Awami League party.

On Sunday, some 104 million people in the Muslim-majority country were eligible to vote, including many young, first-time voters.

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