Bangladeshi Voters Lose Out in Deeply Flawed Election

Violence and abysmal turnout underscore depths of nation's political crisis

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Bangladeshi police and soldiers stand next to damaged ballot boxes in front of a polling station after it was attacked by protestors in the northern town of Bogra on Jan. 5, 2014

At least 18 people were killed in elections in Bangladesh on Jan. 5, in a bloody culmination to months of violent protest.

With an opposition-led boycott of the vote leaving 153 out of 300 parliament seats uncontested, the foregone conclusion that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her ruling Awami League (AL) would remain in power translated into an abysmal voter turnout of some 20%, according to early reports.

News of widespread violence on voting day kept many voters away. Though the streets of the capital city of Dhaka remained relatively quiet on Sunday, dozens of voting booths around the country were reportedly set on fire over the weekend. Other voters were simply disillusioned with the whole process. “It’s a very bad situation,” said Mohammed Abdul Salam, a businessman in Dhaka, who did not vote. “We have no choice.”

An opposition alliance, led by former PM Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh National Party (BNP), has bitterly opposed the government’s 2011 scrapping of a longstanding protocol of having a neutral caretaker government oversee general elections. Several parties called for a boycott of the Jan. 5 vote in protest, with at least 120 people killed in pre-election violence according to Human Rights Watch.

(MORE: Bangladesh Executes Opposition Leader After Controversial War-Crimes Ruling)

Inside the country’s largest burn unit at Dhaka Medical College and Hospital, wards have been packed with victims of the recent days of unrest. Mohammed Lakon, a 45-year -old vegetable seller from nearby Gazipur, was admitted to the hospital on Jan. 2 with burns covering his body from head to waist. According to family members at his side, Lakon had no involvement in politics and had no idea who threw the fire bomb that struck him on the head before covering him in burning petrol.

Despite this charged atmosphere, the government pushed ahead with the polls. As predicted, early results showed an easy ‘win’ for the Awami League. The results, however, bear little reflection of popular will, and the opposition hopes that the feeble mandate the government is left with will force Hasina to agree to its terms for another election in the near future.

It is unclear how or when the two sides will reach an agreement. Gowher Rizvi, the Prime Minister’s international affairs adviser, suggested on polling day that new elections would be held soon. But until they are, the political  standoff seems doomed to continue. The BNP has called for a 48-hour strike to begin on Jan. 6, according to local media.

Political foes Hasina and Zia have been swapping power in Bangladesh since the 1990s, and this bloody election is seen by many as part of the continuum of their long and destructive rivalry. Their enmity has cast a long shadow over many of the laudable gains the crowded South Asian nation has made in recent years, including reducing poverty and the infant mortality rate and improving immunization coverage, among other achievements.

“Bangladesh is heading into the new year with violence at the polls and human rights protections missing in action,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a Jan. 4 statement. “The international community should remind Bangladesh that the world is watching and that the deteriorating rights climate cannot continue.”

—With reporting by Joseph Allchin / Dhaka

MORE: After Much Heartbreak, Some Good News at Last for Bangladesh

19 comments
subu_chatt
subu_chatt

and needless to say, Time yet to publish anything related to this kind of violence rather than stating that "

Voters Lose Out in Deeply Flawed Election".. now check those stories and ask yourself who is against democracy publishing this kind of irresponsible news article.

subu_chatt
subu_chatt

Giving on-the-spot coverage of the incidents, condemned by civil society and newspapers, The Daily Star reported that Hindus were still vulnerable to attacks by “anti-liberation forces” like in 1971 when they were targeted by the Pakistan army and their local cohorts.

subu_chatt
subu_chatt

In western Satkhira, a traditional Jamaat stronghold, Jamaat-BNP men resorted to attacks with sharp weapons, sticks and iron rods. Several hundred Hindus and Awami League leaders have fled their homes in the past few days.

subu_chatt
subu_chatt

In Jessore, the miscreants vandalised at least 46 Hindu houses and establishments and torched six others on Sunday night, alleging that the minority people had voted for the Awami League. In Thakurgaon, the Jamaat-led terrorists unleashed violence on the religious minorities. Jamaat-Shibir and BNP activists went on the rampage, damaging and looting 65 houses and 30 shops and setting afire paddies stored on courtyards in several homes.

subu_chatt
subu_chatt

The daily reported, along with pictures, that residents of at least eight unions in different upazillas of Dinajpur district were the worst sufferers.

subu_chatt
subu_chatt

Leading daily Ittefaq reported: “The Jamaat-Shibir cadres launched despicable attacks on Hindu communities in four districts the day after the 10th parliamentary elections. Hundreds of houses of the minority community were torched and looted since Sunday night in Dinjapur, Jessore, Satkhira and Thakurgaon. A large number of Hindus took shelter in the temples, while others have fled to other villages. They are too scared to return even after assurances from local administration.”

subu_chatt
subu_chatt

Most of the attacks took place in the minority dominated villages in the northern districts of Thakurgaon, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Bogra, Lalmonirhat, Gaibandha, Rajshahi, the southern district of Chittagong and western Jessore.

subu_chatt
subu_chatt

The attacks, most of which took place in the post-election period, have forced hundreds of minority members to flee their houses, according to newspapers published from Dhaka. Systematic attacks were carried out by activists of the Opposition BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami, the party which had violently opposed the independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971.

subu_chatt
subu_chatt

Bangladesh media reports suggest that Hindus in particular have become easy targets of anti-election activists who attacked their houses and other properties, thinking that they voted for the ruling Awami League and did not heed their directive to refrain from voting .

subu_chatt
subu_chatt

The January 5 elections in Bangladesh have again reminded the vulnerable minority community of the brutal treatment it received 43 years ago at the hands of marauding Pakistani forces and their local cohorts.

sukibarney
sukibarney

Another disaster created by the British in 1947. Thanks Mountbatten and the rest of the moronic british ruling class of the time.

MousumiSahaKumar
MousumiSahaKumar

Why some of you calling it a defeat of democracy?

Doesn't it pacify you that BNP lost (keeping themselves away from election) and millions of Hindus and moderate Muslims are now going to breath free for the next 5 years?
Would you be happy if fundamentalists win and kill scores of innocents like they did post independence?  They boycotted the election and now they are making a hue and cry.

bruce.w.ryan
bruce.w.ryan

What if the world's governments brought peace & prosperity? Honoured human rights & freedoms?  Remember, no matter who you vote for the "governmentals" get in power. Time for a new/old solution: the Warriors of the Rainbow

sridhar.sid
sridhar.sid

Unfortunately, the battle in Bandladesh has pitted a Secular Party against an Islamist and the battle has almost been lost. Are we seeing a repeat of post- Arab Spring experience in the Arab world? Why is democracy unable to survive in Countries with strong Islamic influence but survives in Malaysia,Indonesia etc where moderate Islam is on offer? The problem in Bangladesh goes back to the days when the Muslims in Bengal were lumped with those in Pakistan. There was little in common, except religion. But, years of being a part of Pakistan changed the character of  many  Banladeshis and this created the Jamaat. It is truly sad that slowly Bangladesh too is going the Pakistan way and now we may have two failed States in the region!

youlooksoreal
youlooksoreal

Time readers lose "out" in deeply flawed headline.

Fugstarnagar
Fugstarnagar

not that much violence, more a public rejection of the ballot. perhaps you have bent native infromants dear author.