Wed, Dec 31, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Hasina wins landslide in Bangladesh

ATTEMPTS AT DEMOCRACY The voting was the most peaceful in decades, which was a contrast to the failed elections of last year that degenerated into street riots


Bangladeshi men read newspapers posted on a wall in Dhaka yesterday, a day after national elections.


An alliance led by former prime minister Sheikh Hasina won a landslide victory in elections aimed at restoring democracy to Bangladesh, an election official said yesterday.

But even before the tally was complete, Hasina’s opponents launched allegations of irregularities and forgery late on Monday night — leading some to wonder if the election would be able to end a cycle of unrest that has made the South Asian country virtually ungovernable. The party led by former prime minister Khaleda Zia said it would make a formal comment on the result later yesterday.

Election official Humayun Kabir said Hasina’s alliance won a two-thirds majority in Parliament after votes in most districts had been tallied.

“This has been a very free and fair election,” Kabir told reporters at his office in the capital Dhaka.

Hasina asked her supporters not to take to the streets to celebrate the victory, fearing potential clashes with rivals. She was expected to speak at a news conference yesterday afternoon.

The voting marks the country’s first election in seven years, but with no fresh faces — and with both leading candidates facing corruption charges — many fear the vote will just mean a return to the corruption, mismanagement and paralyzing protests of previous attempts at democracy.

Hasina and Zia are heirs to Bangladeshi political dynasties and fixtures of the political scene. Zia was elected prime minister in 1991, Hasina in 1996, and Zia again in 2001.

Though bitter rivals, their parties campaigned on similar platforms of reducing corruption and controlling inflation. One of the few policy differences is that Hasina’s party is seen as relatively secular and liberal, while Zia has allies among Islamic fundamentalists.

According to the latest tallies, Kabir said Hasina’s alliance won 261 out of the 300 parliamentary seats. Zia’s alliance won 30, while independent candidates and the smaller Liberal Democratic Party took four.

Dozens of former ministers in Zia’s government lost, including chief of the Islamic fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami party Motiur Rahman Nizami.

Voting at some polling stations had been temporarily suspended due to allegations of irregularities, and results from some districts were not expected until late yesterday.

Rizvi Ahmed, a senior official in Zia’s party said their were incidents of ballot rigging and forgery in 220 polling stations, including election officials registering fake votes. He also accused police of pressuring people to vote for Hasina’s candidates.

He said his party has lodged formal complaints to the Election Commission. Commission secretary Humayun Kabir said the agency would investigate the allegations.

The voting on Monday was the most peaceful in decades — a stark contrast to the failed elections of last year, which dissolved into street riots and prompted a military-backed interim government to declare emergency rule.

Voter turnout was high, with about 80 percent of the 81 million eligible voters casting ballots, Kabir said.

“I’m here to choose the right person to lead our country,” said S.A. Quader, a 57-year-old businessman who voted in Dhaka. “I’m confident the election will be free and fair.”

Last year, both Zia and Hasina were jailed on corruption charges, which they dismissed as politically motivated.

They were freed on bail and reassumed positions as the heads of their respective parties, the two largest in the country.

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