Bangladesh: ruling party set to win vote boycotted by rivals


SREENAGAR, Bangladesh (AP) – Bangladesh’s ruling party is set to win a series of local elections to choose village-level representatives as part of a boycott of the country’s largest opposition party, after numerous allegations misconduct in the last national vote.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s ruling Awami League party is almost certain to win Thursday’s election for 848 rural councils. A total of 4,571 local councils, known as trade union parishes and responsible for community development and public social protection services at the village level, are being contested in phases.

In the first phase of elections for 204 councils in June, 148 candidates from the ruling party won and the rest went to independents.

Analysts say this is an opportunity for the ruling party to consolidate its position ahead of the next general election slated for 2023. It follows the trend of the last two general elections in 2014 and 2018, which Hasina’s party won in a landslide despite allegations of vote rigging. and handling.

“The way the political and institutional structure has been designed and made, I think it’s hard to imagine that truly free and fair elections will take place in Bangladesh in the next round,” said Iftekharuzzaman, who heads the Bangladeshi section. from Berlin- based at Transparency International.

He blamed the Election Commission for the incompetence and allegiance of senior officials to the ruling party.

“We have decided to stay away from this local government election,” said Rumeen Farhana, a member of the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, a rival. by Hasina. “My party has made it clear its position that without a neutral government and without a party, we will not participate in the next general election. “

“Since 2014, the electoral process has been destroyed, from the grassroots to the national level and it is going from bad to worse. Voters no longer have the choice to choose their candidates, ”she said.

Obaidul Qauder, secretary general of the Awami League, said members of Zia’s party were running for election as independent candidates.

“If you have the courage, participate in the polls visibly with the symbol of your party,” he told reporters.

The opposition often says that a biased political atmosphere prevents them from participating fairly in national elections.

Farhana says their activists across the country face politically motivated charges, a common tactic in Bangladesh to occupy the opposition with legal protection. Authorities routinely deny such allegations, saying the court cases stem from specific charges.

Since 1991, when Bangladesh returned to a democratic system, Hasina and Zia had alternately ruled the country before Hasina came to power with a landslide victory in the 2008 elections which were accepted as free and fair.

But that has changed. Election monitoring groups say more than half of Parliament’s 300-seat constituencies were unchallenged by the ruling party in 2014, while ballot stuffing was common practice in 2018 amid allegations of ‘intimidation.

Iftekharuzzaman said politics in Bangladesh under the two main parties has become a zero-sum game and they have used the Election Commission and public administration for their partisan advantages.

“The key problem lies in the institution of the Electoral Commission, which has been rendered dysfunctional (…) as well as the allegations of corruption against it,” he said.

The Election Commission denied the allegations and said they were properly fulfilling their constitutional obligations.

Iftekharuzzaman said democracy is the main victim as the country’s leaders can no longer claim full legitimacy for the elections.

“They don’t have the real mandate of the people and they don’t have the confidence to really claim themselves as public representatives,” he said.

Many voters feel they have little choice.

“I want an all-party election, which was happening in Bangladesh and which is now lost,” said Mohammed Mojibor, a businessman. “This election is one-sided. I don’t know about the others, but personally I think this is unacceptable.

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