Bangladesh: Polls open as PM Hasina curses opposition


Sunday, 7 January 2024 (11:24 IST)

Polls opened in Bangladesh on a chilly Sunday as the country headed to vote in the general elections. Opposition parties have boycotted the vote, which rights groups say are expected to give Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina her fifth term in office.
Voting in the country of about 170 million people began at 8 a.m. local time (0200 GMT/UTC) and polling booths will stay open until 5 p.m.
Initial results are expected by Monday.
Nearly 2,000 candidates are competing for 300 directly elected parliamentary seats. There are 436 independent candidates, the most since 2001.
With concerns about violence, the voter turnout is expected to be low. Troops and other security forces have been deployed across the country to guard polling booths.
Bangladesh faces turbulence as opposition questions credibility of elections
The period leading up to the elections has been marred by protests in the country affected by economic slowdown, human rights violations and a crackdown on opposition.
On Saturday, seven opposition members were arrested after a train was set on fire in Dhaka in suspected arson.
The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and some of its smaller allies have boycotted the elections, questioning their credibility.
The party has called for a two-day nationwide strike from Saturday, and urged Hasina's resignation, along with the setting up of a neutral authority to conduct elections.
"The BNP is a terrorist organization. I am trying my best to ensure that democracy should continue in this country," Hasina told reporters after casting her vote on Sunday at City College in Dhaka, accompanied by her daughter and other members of her family.
The opposition says Hasina's Awami League has propped "dummy" candidates as independent contesters to make the elections look fair. The main opposition leader Khaleda Zia is effectively under house arrest, under corruption charges that she claims are false.
Hasina denies opposition accusations, says rivals fueled violent demos 
Politics in the nation has been polarized by the rivalry between the two powerful women.
Zia's son, Tarique Rahman, is the acting chairman of the BNP. However, he is in exile in London.
Hasina has denied all these claims, and accused the opposition of fueling anti-government protests that have killed at least 14 since October last year.
Bangladesh has seen sharp spikes in food prices and several blackouts since 2022.
The country's garment sector, which accounts for 85% of its annual exports, has seen a stagnation in wages. Some garment factories were set on fire last year, and many others shut down.

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