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June 19, 2024

Opposition Boycotts Bangladesh Elections Amid Violence and Rigging Allegations

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Jan 6, 2024

Bangladesh is set to hold general elections on Sunday January 8th, but they are already mired in controversy amid an opposition boycott and allegations of vote rigging and violence targeting the political opposition.

Elections Take Place Against Backdrop of Political Turmoil

The elections are taking place against a backdrop of prolonged political turmoil in the country. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of the ruling Awami League is seeking a record fourth term, but critics have accused her of growing increasingly authoritarian and presiding over a crackdown on dissent leading up to the polls.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is boycotting the elections after many of its leaders were arrested or sentenced to prison, or went into exile. The BNP claims that the polls will not be free or fair without a credible opposition.

Party Leader Status
Awami League Sheikh Hasina Contesting polls
BNP Khaleda Zia Boycotting polls

The BNP had initially nominated over 1,000 candidates to contest seats across the country. But according to reports, at least 173 BNP nominees have withdrawn over the last two weeks amid arrests and violence targeting opposition campaigners. Rights groups say over 10,000 opposition activists have been detained ahead of voting.

Opposition Figures Targeted in Security Crackdown

The most prominent opposition figure targeted has been BNP acting chairman Tarique Rahman, who has been in exile in London since his release from prison in 2008.

Rahman was sentenced to life in prison in 2018 for a 2004 grenade attack on a political rally when Hasina was opposition leader. He has denied any role. With Khaleda Zia also imprisoned on graft charges, Rahman has been running the BNP from abroad.

But on December 26th, a Dhaka court issued an arrest warrant for Rahman on charges of inciting arson attacks. This led to the remaining BNP candidates withdrawing en masse from the elections.

Rahman accused the government of seeking to “cling to power by holding this façade election.” Rights groups have also slammed the “repression” of opposition figures under the guise of fighting militancy.

Reports of Dummy Candidates and Vote Rigging

There are also concerning reports about the integrity of the electoral process itself.

Over 100 ruling party candidates are reportedly running unopposed after the opposition withdrawals. And an Al Jazeera investigation found instances of dummy candidates being coerced into registering for seats they have no intention of contesting, seemingly to give the polls a veneer of competition.

Local election monitors allege the following forms of manipulation:

  • Ruling party figures filling out ballot papers out of sight
  • Intimidation of voters to choose certain candidates
  • Ballot box stuffing

They say manipulations in past polls have been missed because polling agents were too scared to report irregularities or were barred from voting centers.

International Reaction Mixed as West Raises Concerns

The international response has been mixed, with China, India and Russia backing the ruling party amid long-standing ties. But the United States and European Union have voiced concerns over the state of Bangladeshi democracy and erosion of civic freedoms.

There are economic implications too. As a major garments exporter, instability in Bangladesh risks supply chain disruption at a time global economies are battling inflation and recession fears.

International Positions on Bangladesh Election:

Country/Bloc Position Rationale
China Backs Hasina govt Major aid donor and infrastructure partner
India Backs Hasina govt Critical ally against regional Islamists
Russia Backs Hasina govt Growing defense ties and weapon sales
United States Concern over fairness But limited influence or alternatives
European Union Concern over fairness Major trade partner, wants stability

The United States in particular is disappointed after championing Bangladesh as a secular democratic success story born out of its 1971 liberation war against Pakistan. Biden officials have called on Hasina to address international doubts but analysts say Washington has limited leverage.

China and India meanwhile see Hasina as a bulwark against a return of hardline Islamist groups like the banned Jamat-e-Islami. Regional powers fear instability that could trigger an exodus of refugees. Protectionist interests in Europe and North America likely limit the risk of trade action post-election.

Next Steps: Violence, Rights Crackdown Feared Amid Leadership Void

Analysts fear that violence, unrest and further oppression could occur in the election’s aftermath, especially with the BNP leadership decimated. There are worries Hasina may go after remnants of the political opposition.

Youth voters are already voicing despair at being trapped in an endless cycle of political chaos. Without an effective opposition or international pressure, the prime minister looks set to tighten her grip on power amid concerns Bangladesh’s once bright democratic future is regressing towards autocracy.

But this risks throwing fuel on the fire. While today’s polls confer legitimacy on paper, the turmoil beneath the surface is unlikely to disappear unless underlying grievances are addressed.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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