Violence, low turnout mar elections in Bangladesh

January 5

Police in Bangladesh fired at protesters on Sunday, and opposition activists torched more than 100 polling stations, during a national election boycotted by the opposition and described as flawed by the international community.

At least 18 people were killed in election-­related violence.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s refusal to heed opposition demands to step down and appoint a neutral caretaker to oversee the election led to the boycott, undermining the legitimacy of the vote, which is all but certain to return Hasina to power. Opposition activists have staged attacks, strikes and transportation blockades in unrest that has left at least 293 people dead since last year.

“We never expected such an election,” said Aminul Islam, who lives here in Dhaka, the capital, and did not vote. “For such a situation, both the government and opposition are responsible. They don’t want to establish democracy.”

The nation’s ruling Awami League party was leading early Monday with 232 seats in Parliament. The Election Commission had not provided official results, but preliminary results reaching the commission showed that Hasina’s party had won 105 seats among 147 districts. The opposition boycott means that elections for another 153 seats went uncontested, with Awami League taking 127 seats.

In a statement, opposition spokesman Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir praised Bangladeshis for “rejecting this meaningless” election.

The opposition announced a 48-hour general strike starting Monday to demand that election results be voided.

Police opened fire to stop protesters from seizing a polling center in the northern Rangpur district, killing two people, authorities said. In neighboring Nilphamari district, police fired at about two dozen protesters, killing two people. Dhaka’s Daily Star newspaper said the four men who were killed belonged to the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party.

An additional 14 people were killed in election-related violence elsewhere, including a polling official stabbed to death by suspected opposition activists, police and local news media reports said.

Election Commission officials said attackers torched at least 127 school buildings across Bangladesh overnight before voting began Sunday. The buildings were to be used as polling stations. Voting was suspended in at least 390 of the nation’s 18,208 polling centers because of attacks, the commission said.

The European Union, the United States and the Commonwealth of Nations did not send observers to monitor what they considered a flawed vote. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Washington was disappointed that the major parties had not reached a consensus on a way to hold free, fair and credible elections.

— Associated Press

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