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Hasina hits home run

Hasina hits home run

Sunday marked a significant day in Bangladesh's politics – the scheduled general elections resembled the plot of a thriller movie, as an ordinary election day came to be marred by fatalities, clashes between activists from the two main parties, polling manipulation and a fleet of security personnel swarming the streets as if the country was being attacked or under emergency. In Dhaka, the roads were empty, shops were closed and mobile internet services were duly shut down. The country came to a standstill in anticipation of witnessing the new victorious who would lead them towards a better future — an evergreen election hope. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's alliance led by Awami League (AL) won Bangladesh's election with a thumping majority — 287 of the 298 seats – while the main Opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), who had boycotted the previous general elections in 2014, managed just six seats. The figures portray heavy favouritism for Sheikh Hasina and her government that has won a historic fourth and third successive term. While her landslide victory can be justified by her protagonist stance in credibly boosting Bangladesh's economic growth alongside welcoming the Rohingyas during their home-country crisis; accusations of her rampant abuse of human rights and a strict crackdown on media and opposition have also lent her the taint of an antagonist. Between the two extremes, Shiekh Hasina, nevertheless, tasted victory in the absence of strong opposition, further weakened by the absence of Khaleda Zia — Hasina's arch-rival incarcerated for 17 years in prison on graft charges. In this backdrop, BNP succumbed despite the presence of an able personality in Kamal Hossain, an 82-year-old jurist who wrote the country's secular Constitution, leading the Opposition alliance into the general elections. In Kamal's opinion, the country has been deprived of the basic requirements essential for a free and fair election. His view of rigged polls drew the support of Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch, who said on Twitter: "With serious allegations of voter intimidation, restrictions on opposition polling agents and several candidates seeking a re-poll, there are concerns about the credibility of the Bangladesh elections." Looking at the build-up to the elections, an uncanny feeling of 'something's wrong' does stir up the pretty picture of Hasina's convincing victory. 17 opposition candidates were arrested over what they claim are trumped-up charges, while another 17 were disqualified from running by courts, which Hasina's opponents say are government con trolled. The opposition claims that more than 15,000 of its activists have been detained during the weeks-long campaign, crushing its ability to mobilise grassroots support. Now, being in power has its privileges and it may be a hard gulp, but acknowledging that the misuse of power exists prevalently is important. While it is deemed that in politics things can be as surprising as a football match – yet, with the Bangladesh polls, the picture seemed a little predictable. Instances of candidates reporting 'ballot-stuffing' and 'vote-rigging' by ruling party activists, who also barred the opposition polling agents from entering the voting centres, do not draw a fair picture. According to Reuters, the voter turnout in Bangladesh was abysmal. Some voters alleged that ruling party workers had blocked them from entering the booths, saying their ballots had already been cast. Combining that with at least 18 deaths and several more injuries in clashes between supporters of AL and BNP anyway bring the elections under a dubious light. The election campaign preceding the vote spoke of violence, allegations of the arrest of Hasina's opponents and threats of intimidation. No surprises then how Kamal Hossain rejected the election results and instead demanded a fresh election under a non-partisan administration. The Opposition's cry of the elections being rigged was aptly rebutted by Hasina's son, Sajeeb Wazed, who called the Opposition "sore losers making false allegations".

"This is not a free and fair election. It is more of a controlled selection," some diplomat uttered as a succinct description of the just-concluded general polls according to neutral onlookers. While the Election Commission will investigate the accusations, Hasina's term will invariably convene with her attempting to raise the wages of garment workers and attract investments from foreign players for the core development of Bangladesh's economy. Being close to India means she will catapult new heights between the two nations, emphasising first on Bangladesh's benefit. Good governance, irrespective of how she came to power for the fourth time, will decide the future of the nation and Sheikh Hasina will be proactively apprehending it. A travesty of an election, as it may be put, will ultimately pave the way for Bangladesh's future, which requires strategies for securing a sound tomorrow with balanced economic growth and reduced communal tension.

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