Campaigning for Bangladesh’s general election ended yesterday after weeks of violence, mainly against workers and officials from an opposition alliance, which has drawn criticism from the US and others.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League is seeking its third straight term in tomorrow’s elections against the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which boycotted the last vote in 2014.
The Awami League is promoting its economic record over the past decade, but a BNP-led opposition alliance, many of whose leaders have been jailed, has vowed to remove curbs on the media, increase wages and freeze energy prices.
“The government has lost moral support,” BNP secretary-general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told reporters on Thursday, urging voters to “restore democracy.”
“But the people are with us. They want change,” he said.
The BNP’s preparations have been hamstrung by the February jailing of its chairwoman, former Bangladeshi prime minister Khaleda Zia, on what the party called trumped-up corruption charges.
Awami League leaders have denied any misuse of power, saying that they would return to government with an overwhelming majority.
Hasina on Thursday told supporters that they must “ensure victory of pro-liberation forces,” a reference to Bangladesh’s war of independence from Pakistan in 1971 led by her father, former Bangladeshi president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The Economist Intelligence Unit forecast her party to win a third term.
The BNP on Thursday said that more than 8,200 opposition leaders and activists from a coalition of about 20 parties have been arrested since the election schedule was announced early last month.
Four workers were killed and more than 12,300 injured, it said.
The Awami League has in turn said that the BNP and its partners were behind attacks that killed at least six of its workers over the past three weeks.
Police declined to confirm the figures.
Mahbub Talukdar, one of five election commissioners, has said that there has not been a level playing field, although other commissioners have said that they expected the election to be free and fair.
US Ambassador to Bangladesh Earl Miller on Thursday said that all parties had been victims of violence, including women and minority candidates.
“However, it appears opposition party candidates have borne the brunt of most violence,” he said in a statement after meeting Bangladeshi Election Commission officials.
All candidates and voters must be able to take part without “harassment, intimidation or violence,” and an independent media must be allowed to cover the election, Miller said.
The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission has ordered the shutdown of high-speed mobile Internet services to curb the spread of “confusing content,” an official said yesterday on condition of anonymity.
“We asked telecom operators to halt 3G and 4G services temporarily on Thursday night. We have done it to prevent propaganda and misleading content spreading on the Internet,” the official said.
High-speed Internet services resumed yesterday morning after a 10-hour blackout, but could be suspended again later in the day, the official said.
Shut out by mainstream media, the BNP has been reduced to social media such as Facebook to lobby for votes.
Its leaders have posted series of videos to canvass support from Bangladesh’s 100 million voters ahead of the election.
Earlier this month, the regulator blocked the BNP Web site, along with 53 news Web sites and portals, including several pro-BNP sites, saying that they spread “obscene” and malicious content.
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