Bangladesh PM says vote ‘victory of people’; opposition to continue protest

Bangladesh PM says vote ‘victory of people’; opposition to continue protest

Sheikh Hasina wins record fifth term as PM in election boycotted by the opposition which promises more agitations ‘to save democracy’.

Dhaka, Bangladesh – Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina says her fifth term in power is a “victory of the people”, dismissing the opposition’s allegation that the vote was a “sham”.

“I have been fighting throughout my life to ensure people’s democratic rights,” the 76-year-old leader said while addressing a news conference at her residence in capital Dhaka on Monday.

Without naming the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which boycotted Sunday’s polls, Hasina said, “They didn’t come to the election as they feared people’s judgement”, adding that the absence of one party did not mean “democracy is absent” in Bangladesh.

The 12th parliamentary elections in the South Asian country saw an official voter turnout of about 40 percent, its third lowest ever. The BNP and some independent observers, however, questioned the veracity of that figure.

BNP leader Abdul Moyeen Khan called it a “fake election” and said the Awami League-led government was “illegitimate”, demanding the vote be cancelled.

During a press briefing at the party office on Monday, Khan demanded a new election under a neutral caretaker administration to form “a credible and responsible government”.

“A government of the dummy, by the dummy, for the dummy will be established if Hasina attempts to form any kind of government through this dummy election,” he said.

Khan said the BNP will continue its protest to “restore people’s democratic rights” amid a months-old crackdown by the government.

“We have a responsibility towards the people. We can’t let our country turn into a complete authoritarian state,” he said.

The Jatiya Party, which is now the main opposition group in parliament, also disputed the poll turnout and said the vote took place only to re-elect Hasina and her party members, “not to count people’s votes”.

The party bagged 11 out of 300 parliamentary seats, while the governing party won 222. The independents won 61.

Hasina herself won 249,962 votes from her constituency Gopalganj, about 165km (100 miles) south of Dhaka, while her nearest rival secured just 469 votes, local media reports said.

‘Authoritarian state’

Jatiya Party leader GM Quader said the election was fair only in the constituencies the Awami League wanted it to be fair. “But in other places, they just declared the numbers and names of the winning candidate. It was all pre-set,” he said.

Envoys from several nations, including India, Russia, and China, congratulated Hasina on securing a record-extending fourth consecutive term.

The United States, which had warned of a visa ban on Bangladesh’s government officials if the vote was unfair, has not issued any statement yet. The European Union and other Western governments had also put pressure on Hasina to ensure a free vote.

Dhaka-based political analyst Zahed Ur Rahman told Al Jazeera Bangladesh has experienced a “severe blow to its core and structure” during Hasina’s 15-year tenure as premier.

“There is hardly any separation of power that exists in this country now,” said Rahman, adding that the executive, the legislature and the judiciary are all essentially under the direct control of the prime minister’s office.

“All other constitutional or statutory institutes in this country – like the Election Commission – have become mere extensions of the regime,” he added.

Asif Nazrul, professor of law at Dhaka University, told Al Jazeera Bangladesh is already “an authoritarian state” in all the senses of the term.

“All important institutions have been compromised to keep Hasina in power, and the way that has been done indicates the country’s transformation towards an authoritarian state,” he said.