Sheikh Hasina clinches fifth term through opposition boycott, election integrity concerns in Bangladesh

Despite allegations of human rights abuses and a crackdown on the opposition, Hasina’s tenure has overseen rapid economic growth, transforming a nation once plagued by poverty.

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina secured her fifth term in office on Sunday, 7th January as officials declared her ruling Awami League victorious in an election marked by an opposition boycott. The Election Commission confirmed the win in the early hours of Monday, revealing initial reports of a modest 40% voter turnout. The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), crippled by mass arrests, had labelled the election a “sham” and orchestrated a general strike.

Despite allegations of human rights abuses and a crackdown on the opposition, Hasina’s tenure has overseen rapid economic growth, transforming a nation once plagued by poverty. The Awami League strategically avoided fielding candidates in some constituencies, seemingly to prevent the legislature from being perceived as a one-party institution.

While the official announcement of results is pending, election commission officials estimate that Hasina’s party secured around three-quarters of the total 300 seats, with at least 220 victories. Support from allied parties could further strengthen her control over parliament.

The 76-year-old leader, urging citizens to trust the democratic process, branded the BNP a “terrorist organization.” The BNP, led by Tarique Rahman from exile in Britain, denounced the election as a “disgrace” and expressed concerns about the potential use of “fake votes” to inflate turnout.

Despite allegations of irregularities and accusations of rigging in previous polls, this election was largely peaceful, according to election officials. Nearly 800,000 police officers and soldiers were deployed nationwide to ensure security. However, Human Rights Watch representative Meenakshi Ganguly stated that the government failed to reassure opposition supporters about the fairness of the polls, raising concerns about a potential “further crackdown.”

Political tensions escalated last year with months of protests demanding Hasina’s resignation ahead of the election. While voting was generally calm, opposition protests were dispersed in the port city of Chittagong, with reports of shotgun firings and tear gas.

Bangladesh’s political landscape has long been defined by the rivalry between Hasina and two-time premier Khaleda Zia. Zia, convicted of graft in 2018, is currently hospitalized, while her son, Tarique Rahman, heads the BNP.

Critics argue that Hasina’s government, despite economic growth, faces dissatisfaction due to rising food costs and persistent power shortages. The International Crisis Group’s Pierre Prakash noted that Hasina’s popularity has diminished, creating a potentially “dangerous combination” where citizens have limited outlets at the ballot box.

As Bangladesh awaits the formal announcement of results, the election outcome raises questions about the nation’s democratic health, with concerns about the legitimacy of the process and the potential for further political turbulence in the days ahead.