Dhaka, Jan 05: Bangladesh votes on Sunday in a poll that will ensure Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s fifth term in office. Opposition parties, whose membership has been severely damaged by widespread arrests, have boycotted the election, AFP reported.
Hasina’s ruling Awami League has presided over exceptional growth in a country once beset by grinding poverty, thanks to a lucrative garment export industry supplying the world’s top fast fashion brands.
But her tenure has also been marred by widespread human rights abuses, with her security forces accused of extrajudicial killings, laws curtailing press and civic freedoms, and a ruthless crackdown on the opposition.
The Awami League faces few or no effective rivals in the seats it is contesting but has not fielded candidates for a small minority of seats, an apparent effort to avoid the legislature being branded a one-party institution.
Many young voters say they have no intention of participating in a contest they see as lacking a genuine choice.
“I’m not wasting my time for a one-sided election,” computer science graduate Sohanur Rahman, 28, told AFP in Dhaka.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and other parties staged a series of rallies last year demanding Hasina step down in favor of a neutral caretaker government to oversee Sunday’s vote.
Around 25,000 opposition cadres including the BNP’s entire local leadership were arrested in the ensuing crackdown, the party says — the government puts the figure at 11,000 — and tens of thousands more are in hiding.
Politics in the world’s eighth-most populous country was long dominated by the rivalry between Hasina, the daughter of the country’s founding leader, and two-time premier Khaleda Zia, wife of a former military ruler.
Hasina, 76, has been the decisive victor since returning to power in a 2009 landslide, and consolidating her power with two subsequent polls accompanied by widespread irregularities and accusations of rigging.
Zia, 78, was convicted of graft in 2018 and is now in ailing health at a hospital in the capital Dhaka.
Her son Tarique Rahman has helmed the BNP in her stead from London, where he has lived in exile since 2008, facing several criminal convictions at home.
Rahman told AFP that his party, along with dozens of others, had refused to participate in a vote with a “predetermined” outcome.
“Participating in an election under Hasina, against the aspirations of the Bangladeshi people, would undermine the sacrifices of those who fought, shed blood and gave their lives for democracy,” he said.