Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Shiekh Hasina wins Bangladesh majority

Photo: Azizur Rahim Peu, DRIK News

MARK DUMMETT

The BBC journalist in Bangladesh capital, Dhaka, says although official results of the parliamentary poll will be known soon, supporters of the Awami League are already celebrating landslide victory.


Former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Awami League has won a substantial victory in Bangladesh's election, with almost all results declared.

Election officials have said the Awami League has won more than three-quarters of seats in the 300-seat parliament.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Ms Hasina's arch-rival Khaleda Zia has won barely a tenth of that number.

Turnout was high in the first election for seven years, which came after two years of army-backed rule.

The win for the Awami League is a dramatic reversal in fortunes for the two parties.

Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia have dominated politics in Bangladesh for years and are again vying for power after two years of army-backed rule.

A win for the Awami League will be a dramatic reversal in fortunes for the two parties, says our correspondent.

Tight security
Provisional figures show Sheikh Hasina's alliance has taken more than 150 of the 300 seats in parliament.

Our correspondent says the early results also suggest that the BNP's ally, Jamaat-e-Islami, has lost most of its seats.

A leader of Khaleda Zia's BNP said its supporters were kept from voting in various parts of the country, and it planned to file a complaint.

"We have reports that BNP supporters were barred from coming to polls and also were driven away from polling stations in many places," BNP leader Rizvi Ahmed told local television, the Reuters news agency reports.

Election officials say more than 70% of Bangladesh's 81 million voters are thought to have cast their ballots in a poll intended to return the country to democracy after two years of rule by a military-backed government.

Security was tight throughout polling day, with about 50,000 soldiers and 600,000 police deployed to guard against election fraud and violence.

Chief election commissioner Shamsul Huda said he had complete confidence in the election process and there was "no scope for fraud of vote rigging".

He went on: "So it will be difficult to reject the election result this time. We expect people will elect a parliament, which even if not a dream parliament, it will be a good one."

Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia - both former prime ministers - were jailed for suspected corruption but released to contest the vote.

During campaigning, the two rivals pledged to lower food prices, and to tackle corruption and terrorism in the nation of 144 million people.

They also both promised to end the confrontation, strikes and violent street rallies that have marked Bangladeshi politics for years. The two women alternated in power for 15 years until 2006.

Anti-corruption drive
No serious violence was reported during the election, and our correspondent says the mood at a polling station he visited was festive.

Some 200,000 electoral observers, including 2,500 from abroad, monitored the national vote.

The army cancelled elections due in January 2007 after months of street protests and battles between gangs of rival party supporters spiralled out of control.

The army-backed caretaker government then tried to root out corruption from the country's elites.

Our correspondent says the newly-empowered Anti-Corruption Commission sought to prosecute the top politicians and businessmen who had earned Bangladesh its reputation as one of the world's most corrupt countries.

More than 11 million phoney names were purged from the voter roll.

"This time we feel that there is an opportunity to proceed towards democracy," one voter told the BBC.

"I'm feeling very happy that there is this peaceful atmosphere for casting votes."

A simple majority of the parliament's 300 seats is enough to secure victory, but analysts have said that if no clear winner emerges, it could lead to fears of unrest if supporters of the rival parties take to the streets. #

First published in BBC NEWS, December 29, 2008

© BBC MMVIII