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Bangladesh

Bangladesh opposition rejects election results

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gestures after casting her vote in the morning during the general election in Dhaka, Bangladesh, December 30, 2018.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gestures after casting her vote in the morning during the general election in Dhaka, Bangladesh, December 30, 2018. Reuters

Bangladesh’s opposition has contested the results of elections won in a landslide by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. But widespread reports of irregularities, voter intimidation and violence have cast a shadow over the polls.

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Hasina was handed a fourth term after her Awami League and its allies took 288 of 298 seats in parliament.

Opinion polls prior to the election indicated the Awami league would triumph over the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and its allies – even without manipulation.

“It’s been a very serious attempt by the Awami League to manipulate the direction of the elections,” says Charulata Hogg, Associate Fellow Asia Pacific at Chatham House.

“About ten thousand opposition activists and supporters have been arrested so far. There has been an assault on the BNP,” she says.

In addition, she notes reports about a manipulation of the election commission, and even the police.

“We know that (...) people say that they were not allowed to poll; there was no independent oversight to this election."

According to Hogg, “even though victory was in the Awami league’s pocket, they needed to be sure that they did win this election.”

Meanwhile, the head of the BNP-lead alliance, Kamal Hossain, is calling for ‘fresh election under a neutral government as early as possible.”

“At this stage it really depends on the kind of pressure that the international community can exercise,” says Hogg.

“I feel it is highly unlikely that the election commission will rule that this election result is irregular, given the fact that [it] has taken the position that is supported by the ruling party.

In spite of the alleged vote rigging, many people seem happy with the government of Sheikh Hasina.

"There are two sides to Bangladesh really,” says Hogg. “There is the economic growth, the fact that access to education is improved, employment is high. If you look purely in terms of development, Bangladesh has taken strides, and people are generally satisfied.

“But on the other side there is the rule of law issue, and the governance issue. Which is about authoritarianism creeping in: a complete end of democracy.

“To say that the people of Bangladesh who cast their vote for Sheikh Hasina (...) was a vote for democracy, would not be correct."

Leaders in Bangladesh seem to be looking at the China-model of economic development and political repression.

And China is very present in Bangladesh because of its multi-billion dollar Belt and Road infrastructure project that covers most Asian countries and that critics see as a barely covered form of neo-colonialism.

“The current economic growth that Bangladesh is witnessing is bolstered by Chinese investment,” adds Hogg.

“But Chinese investment is not for free. So there is a point in time when the bubble will burst. Under [Sheik Hasina’s] government over the past decade or so we have seen increasing Chinese investment.”

Since 2005, China has also become Bangladesh’s largest trading partner. But as many developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America have experienced, Beijing demands a high price for investments that cannot be paid back, often in the form of natural resources, or complete ownership of that project.

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