Bangladesh counts votes in low-turnout election boycotted by opposition

Bangladesh election officials are counting votes after a controversial poll, fraught with violence and boycotted by the opposition, is guaranteed to give a fourth straight term to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Bangladeshis largely stayed away from the vote on Sunday as initial signs suggested a low turnout, despite widespread reports of carrot-and-stick inducements aimed at bolstering the poll’s legitimacy.

“Vote counting has begun,” said election commission spokesman Shariful Alam.

Later on Sunday, local media reported that Hasina’s Awami League won 216 seats out of 299, independent candidates took 52, and the Jatiya Party took 11 seats. The results for the rest of the constituencies were still coming in.

Official results from the election commission are expected on Monday morning.

Turnout was 27.15 percent at 3pm (09:00 GMT), an hour before polls closed, the election commission said, compared with an overall turnout of more than 80 percent in the last election in 2018.

Voting was cancelled at three centres due to irregularities, said Jahangir Alam, secretary of the commission.

Independent election observer and civil society activist Badiul Alam Majumder told Al Jazeera he did not consider the vote a “proper election at all”.

“It has a seriously low turnout – probably the lowest I have seen in my life,” he said, adding that his organisation did not officially monitor the vote this year.

Accompanied by her daughter and other family members, Hasina voted at the capital Dhaka’s City College minutes after polling began.

“Bangladesh is a sovereign country and people are my power,” she said after voting, adding that she hoped her party would win the people’s mandate, which would give it a fifth term since 1996.

“I am trying my best to ensure that democracy should continue in this country.”

The BNP, whose ranks have been decimated by mass arrests, called a two-day nationwide strike through Sunday, urging people to not participate in what it called a “sham” election.

BNP chief Tarique Rahman, speaking from Britain where he lives in exile, said he was worried about ballot stuffing.

“I fear that the election commission may increase voter turnout by using fake votes,” he told AFP news agency.

Hasina last year refused BNP demands to resign and allow a neutral authority to run the election, accusing the opposition of instigating antigovernment protests that have rocked the capital since late October and killed at least 14 people.

Rights groups have warned of virtual one-party rule by Hasina’s Awami League in the South Asian country of 170 million people after the boycott by the BNP and some smaller allies.

Tanvir Chowdhury, Al Jazeera correspondent in Dhaka, said there was a “lack of interest and enthusiasm” among the people.

“The city is quiet and sombre. No one wants to speak freely on camera. People are saying off the record this is all very predictable. It is not an inclusive election.”

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