Bangladesh Counts Votes After Election Without Opposition

Results are expected as early as Monday morning.

Election officials prepare to count ballot papers at a polling booth in Dhaka on January 7, 2024. (Photo by MUNIR UZ ZAMAN / AFP)


Bangladeshi election officials counted votes Sunday after polls guaranteed to give a fifth term in office to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina closed, following a boycott led by an opposition party she branded a “terrorist organisation”.

Hasina has presided over breakneck economic growth in a country once beset by grinding poverty, but her government has been accused of rampant human rights abuses and a ruthless opposition crackdown.

Her party faced almost no effective rivals in the seats it contested, but it avoided fielding candidates in a few constituencies, an apparent effort to avoid the legislature being branded a one-party institution.

READ ALSO: Bangladesh Votes In Election Without Opposition

The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), whose ranks have been decimated by mass arrests, called a general strike and, along with dozens of others, refused to participate in a “sham election”.

But Hasina, 76, called for citizens to show faith in the democratic process.

“The BNP is a terrorist organisation,” she told reporters after casting her vote.

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


Results are expected as early as Monday morning, with television channels broadcasting early counts from several polling stations putting ruling party candidates ahead.

Election officials count ballot papers at a polling booth in Dhaka on January 7, 2024. (Photo by Indranil MUKHERJEE / AFP)

Chief Election Commissioner Habibul Awal told reporters the turnout, based on preliminary figures, was around 40 percent.

First-time voter Amit Bose, 21, said he had cast his ballot for his “favourite candidate”, urging others to follow his example.

But many said they had not voted because the outcome was assured.

“When one party is participating and another is not, why would I go to vote?” said Mohammad Saidur, 31, who pulls a rickshaw.

BNP head Tarique Rahman, speaking from Britain where he lives in exile, told AFP he feared “fake votes” would be used to boost voter turnout.

“What unfolded was not an election, but rather a disgrace to the democratic aspirations of Bangladesh,” he wrote on social media, alleging he had seen “disturbing pictures and videos” backing his claims.

There were widespread reports of carrot-and-stick inducements to encourage turnout aimed at bolstering the poll’s legitimacy.

Some voters said earlier they had been threatened with the confiscation of government benefit cards needed to access welfare payments if they refused to cast ballots for the ruling Awami League.

Fear of ‘further crackdown’

The BNP and other parties staged months of protests last year, demanding Hasina step down ahead of the vote.

Officers in the port city of Chittagong broke up an opposition protest Sunday, firing shotguns and tear gas canisters, but election officials said voting was largely peaceful, with nearly 800,000 police officers and soldiers deployed countrywide.

Meenakshi Ganguly, from Human Rights Watch, said Sunday that the government had failed to reassure opposition supporters that the polls would be fair, warning that “many fear a further crackdown”.

Politics in the world’s eighth-most populous country was long dominated by the rivalry between Hasina, the daughter of the country’s founding leader, and two-time premier Khaleda Zia, wife of a former military ruler.

Hasina has been the decisive victor since returning to power in a 2009 landslide, with two subsequent polls accompanied by widespread irregularities and accusations of rigging.

Zia, 78, was convicted of graft in 2018 and is now in ailing health at a hospital in Dhaka, with her son Tarique Rahman helming the BNP in her stead from London.

‘Dangerous combination’

Hasina has accused the BNP of arson and sabotage during last year’s protest campaign, which was mostly peaceful but saw several people killed in police confrontations.

The government’s security forces have been dogged by allegations of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances — charges it rejects.

The United States, the biggest export market for the South Asian nation of 170 million, has imposed sanctions on an elite police unit and its top commanders.

Economic headwinds have left many dissatisfied with Hasina’s government, after sharp spikes in food costs and months of chronic blackouts in 2022.

Wage stagnation in the garment sector, which accounts for around 85 percent of the country’s $55 billion in annual exports, sparked industrial unrest late last year that saw some factories torched and hundreds more shuttered.

Pierre Prakash of the International Crisis Group said before the vote that Hasina’s government was clearly “less popular than it was a few years ago, yet Bangladeshis have little real outlet at the ballot box”.

“That is a potentially dangerous combination.”