There is nothing unusual or surprising in the 'historic victory' of Awami League and Sheikh Hasina in the just concluded elections in Bangladesh; the popular 'verdict' was quite anticipated. Under the steely fist of power wielded by her for the last ten years, and with a pre-written script of electoral drama, there was no different outcome to expect. When official results for the 11th parliamentary elections were out on Sunday, the alliance led by Awami League won 288 out of 300 seats.
With this win, Sheikh Hasina is set to take the prime ministerial chair for a third time. The main opposition alliance, the National United Front, led by Bangladesh National Parfty (BNP) won only in seven seats. Although the electoral fraud by Awami League using the arms of official machinery has by now been subject of dispute, Hasina and her coterie are surely on the course of surmounting all that – and ensure continuity of her dictatorship - through media censorship and other controls. The very incidents of violence unleashed by Awami League workers on the poll day are a clear pointer of the direction the country is heading.
The elections have been termed 'farcical' by the Opposition parties including BNP; and this 'popular verdict' does not deserve anything other than this epithet. After all, every arrangement was made to guarantee continuity of her rule. All the prominent opposition parties were literally suppressed. Last February, BNP leader and former prime minister Khalida Zia was jailed on charges of corruption dug out from two decades ago.
All the top leaders of BNP were arrested on framed charges. Another of the Opposition parties, Jamaat-e-Islami had already been stripperd of its right to function five years ago and prominent leaders of the organization were all either hanged or sentenced to life imprisonment. The protests held by youth movements in major cities including Dhaka were all dipped in blood and decimated. Controls were imposed on news against the government. It was in the backdrop of such an undeclared emergency that Hasina's regime laid the ground for election. On the other hand, the National United Front was led by BNP which did not have a representation in parliament following its boycott of the 2014 election.
Probably because all the BNP leaders worth the name were behind bars, it was the very senior Kamal Husain, president of People's Forum and one of the architects of the country's constitution who led the front which was cobbled together only two months ago. In the absence of a solid leadership, the morale of BNP workers also dipped. Add to all this, the violence unleashed by police and Awami Leage workers, and the poll frauds committed by the election officials, then the picture becomes complete.
However, observers from foreign countries commented that this election was relatively transparent. That observation cannot be totally discounted given the fact that the 2014 parliament election was held completely under the military. However, the malpractices and violence during the polling have been mentioned in detail by human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and international media including the BBC.
On the day of polling alone, which was held under the watch of about six lakh military men, 17 people were killed. All the polling agents of BNP wer evacuated from the polling booths by Awami League workers and the officials. Fake votes were cast in large scale. On a single day, 8,200 Opposition partymen were rounded up, and were subjected to horrifying attacks. Salahuddeen Ahmed, who contested from Dhaka, was stabbed by Awami League workers. 40 candidates from BNP were denied entry to their own constituencies.
But for Sheikh Hasina, this is really a historic event. For the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation of Bangladesh, this is her fourth term as prime minister. No doubt, Hasina's political career was one that kicked off with a battle against the ruthless military dictatorship under HM Ershad. But recent events would testify to the fact that Hasin'a own 'democratic reforms' have given way to a style of government reminiscent of those very days of military rule.
Contrary to what has been touted, statistics tell that Hasina has not been able to put any new face of development in Bangladesh. A fourth of the country's population is still below the poverty line. In a country famous for textile industry, she has not been able to open a single new factory. And it is too early to forget the huge protest rally held by the army of unemployed in Dhaka. Her only laudable step was the asylum given to a million Rohingyan refugees. Apart from the praise by the countries of the world she won for that act, one has to assess Hasina's government as a Fascist regime.