Dhaka, Bangladesh – Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League (AL) party won Sunday’s parliamentary election, according to unofficial results reported by local media, after the main opposition alliance rejected the violence-marred polls.
Within hours of the counting of the votes, Bangladesh’s ruling party surged ahead – an outcome the opposition alliance had feared.
In a hurriedly called news conference on Sunday night, the leader of the Jatiya Oikya Front – the main opposition alliance – dubbed the election “farcical”.
“We reject the farcical election and want the election commission to hold a fresh election under a non-partisan administration,” said Kamal Hossain, an 82-year-old jurist who wrote the country’s secular constitution.
According to unofficial results reported by local TV networks, the ruling party had won 281 seats. A party needs 151 seats to form a government.
The Bangladeshi Nationalist Party-led alliance (BNP) managed to win just six seats out of 300 up for grabs in the 350-member parliament, or Jatiya Sangshad. Fifty seats are reserved for women.
Out of the 27 results announced, the ruling Grand Alliance won 21 while one seat went to the opposition, according to the election commission. The final results are likely to be announced by the election commission on Monday.
Hasina, who has headed the AL since 1981, went into the polls on the back of a decade of impressive GDP growth and booming garment exports. Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest exporter of garments after China.
The 71-year-old leader is set for a record fourth term in office in the South Asian Muslim-majority nation of 160 million.
The sheer scale of the victory, as of now, reveals the nature and scale of the rigging. It cannot be described as the verdict of the voters.
Ali Riaz, professor at Illinois University
She has been applauded for hosting nearly one million Rohingya refugees who took shelter in Bangladesh after fleeing a brutal military offensive in neighbouring Myanmar.
But critics have accused Hasina of authoritarianism and crippling the opposition. Her bitter political rival and leader of the BNP, Khaleda Zia, 73, is serving a 17-year jail term for corruption.
Opposition alliance accused Hasina’s party of using stuffed ballot boxes [Mahmud Hossain Opu/Al Jazeera]
Voting in the capital, Dhaka, was largely peaceful as convoys of soldiers and paramilitary forces were on the streets, where most traffic was banned.
At least 17 people were killed across the country in clashes between members of rival parties on Sunday despite the deployment of around 600,000 security personnel to prevent violence.
More than 40 opposition candidates pulled out of the election after polls opened, citing vote-rigging and ballot-stuffing, according to the Daily Star.
The opposition claimed thousands of its activists were arrested in the lead-up to the polls.
“We are getting disturbing reports outside Dhaka that overnight votes have been cast illegally,” said Hossain of Jatiya Oikya Front.
‘A travesty of an election’
Ali Riaz, professor at the department of politics and government at Illinois State University in the US, said: “It was a travesty of an election”.
“What happened throughout the country, polling centre by centre, from driving out the polling agents to ballot stuffing, can’t be called an election, let alone a credible election.
“The sheer scale of the victory, as of now, reveals the nature and scale of the rigging. It cannot be described as the verdict of the voters,” Riaz told Al Jazeera over the phone.
The elections commission, which has yet to announce the voter turnout rate, said it would investigate allegations of vote rigging.
“Allegations are coming from across the country and those are under investigation,” SM Asaduzzaman, spokesperson for the elections commission told Reuters news agency. ”If we get any confirmation from our own channels then measures will be taken as per rules.”
Later, the election commission suspended voting at 22 centres across the country.
Syed Moazzem Hossain Alal, joint secretary-general of the BNP, the main party in the opposition alliance, called the election a “mockery”.
But Mahbubul Alam Hanif, joint secretary-general of the ruling party, said he was satisfied with Sunday’s vote.
“We are happy with the way the vote turned out. I believe Awami League will gain an absolute victory,” he said.
About 104 million people were registered to vote in the country’s 11th general election.
Additional reporting by Saqib Sarker from Dhaka