A policeman kicks a protester during a clash after
protesters attacked and set fire to polling booths in
Bangladesh's ruling Awami League is poised to win a
violence-plagued parliamentary election whose outcome was never
in doubt after a boycott by the main opposition party.
With fewer than half of the 300 seats being contested, voters
cast ballots in modest numbers amid heavy security in polling
that lacked the festivity typical of Bangladeshi elections
and was shunned by international observers as flawed.
Low voter participation could pile new pressure on Prime
Minister Sheikh Hasina to find a compromise with the
opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) for holding new
Results in constituencies that featured a contest were
expected late on Sunday or early on Monday. Hasina is
expected to form a new government sometime this month.
Either Hasina or BNP chief Begum Khaleda Zia has been prime
minister for all but two of the past 22 years. The two are
"The immediate fallout of this dismal voter turnout will be
the Hasina government coming under greater pressure to hold
talks with the opposition," said Hossain Zillur Rahman, an
economist and adviser to a former "caretaker" government
tasked with overseeing an election.
"It is the ultimate sign of protest by Bangladeshi people and
tells us that they are unhappy with the way elections have
been held in this country."
The impasse between the two main parties, which showed no
sign of easing, undermined the poll's legitimacy and is
fuelling worries of economic stagnation and further violence
in the impoverished South Asian nation of 160 million.
Abul Kashem, who works as a driver and is a supporter of the
BNP, was dismayed at the political standoff.
"This is a suicidal election as it will not bring any peace
in the country," he said outside a Dhaka polling station.
The country's $22 billion garment industry, which accounts
for 80 percent of exports, has been disrupted by
transportation blockades ahead of the election. BNP officials
said party supporters would maintain the blockade and called
another in a series of general strikes starting from Monday.
Eighteen people were killed in separate incidents on election
day, according to media reports, and voting was halted at
more than 150 polling stations. More than 100 people were
killed in the run-up to the ballot, mostly in rural areas,
and fears of violence had been expected to keep many voters
Police said they had been forced to fire on opposition
activists in six incidents.
Apart from a handful of crude bomb explosions, Dhaka was
calm. In Satkania, near the port city of Chittagong, a poll
official's arms were broken and police were attacked.
Hasina has spoken of holding talks with the opposition on the
conduct of future elections which, if successful, could lead
to another poll. The BNP had demanded a halt to the current
Turnout figures were not immediately available, though
election officials acknowledged that they had anticipated low
numbers and voting appeared slow at Dhaka polling stations.
At one, in the Lalbagh area, 626 of 2,274 voters, or 28
percent, cast ballots. At another nearby site, final turnout
among male voters was 21 percent.
The BNP said low turnout vindicated its denunciation of the
poll as a farce.
"The turnout is a clear indication that the common people
rejected this election and it is almost an election without
voters," Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury, a BNP vice chairman, told
Junior Law Minister Mohammad Quamrul Islam said the election
was necessary for the democratic process and repeated that
another poll could be held anytime in agreement with the BNP.
"But they must stop violence before dialogue for the next
elections could start," he told reporters after voting.
The BNP denounces Hasina's scrapping of the practice of
having a caretaker government oversee elections. The Awami
League says the interim government system has proved a
Many BNP leaders are in jail or in hiding, and Khaleda says
she is under virtual house arrest, which the government
The European Union, a duty free market for nearly 60 percent
of Bangladesh's garment exports, refused to send election
observers, as did the United States and the Commonwealth, a
grouping of 53 mainly former British colonies.
"The elections have to happen to ensure a government is
formed and the country can start functioning again normally,"
said Mehedi Rahman, 43, a schoolteacher voting in Dhaka.
"The unfortunate part is there is hardly any meaning because
the opposition has boycotted it and the outcome is known."