In power since 2009, Bangladesh's 76-year-old Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is heading for a fifth term – and a fourth consecutive – after winning the general election on Sunday (January 7th), boycotted by the main opposition party which denounced a "sham election".

Read alsoIn Bangladesh, unopposed legislative elections to re-elect Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

While Sheikh Hasina is credited with driving rapid growth in the world's eighth-most populous country, once plagued by extreme poverty, her government has been accused of serious human rights abuses and a ruthless crackdown on the opposition.

Sheikh Hasina's ruling Awami League party "won more than 50 percent of the seats" in the unicameral parliament, an election commission spokesman told AFP hours after voting closed.

Earlier, Somoy TV, the largest private television channel in the country of 170 million people, announced that Sheikh Hasina was assured of victory, with the Awami League, with its allies, having won at least 60% of the seats in parliament, after announcing the results of 225 of the 300 seats.

After casting her vote in Dhaka, Sheikh Hasina called on voters to go to the polls, promising "free and fair" elections. She also denounced the boycott of the election by the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which she described as a "terrorist organisation".

The BNP, for its part, denounced "a sham election". The vote was also boycotted by other parties, decimated like him in recent months by mass arrests.

Among the ruling party's lawmakers is Shakib al-Hasan, captain of the national cricket team, the country's king sport, according to the media outlet.

The Awami League had virtually no opponents in the constituencies it was running. But it had omitted to field candidates in a few others, apparently to avoid the unicameral parliament being seen as an instrument of a single party.

Low turnout

The head of the national electoral commission, Habibul Awal, estimated turnout at around 40 percent.

Many Bangladeshis interviewed by AFP said they did not vote because the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

"Why would I vote when one party participates and the other doesn't?" said Mohammad Saidur, a 31-year-old rickshaw driver.

"We all know who is going to win," said Farhana Manik, a 27-year-old student.

BNP leader Tarique Rahman denounced possible ballot box stuffing. "What has taken place is not an election, but rather a disgrace to Bangladesh's democratic aspirations," he said on social media from London, where he has lived in exile since 2008, adding that he had seen "disturbing photos and videos" supporting his accusations.

There were many testimonies of various incitements and even blackmail by the authorities to encourage participation.

Some voters say they were threatened with confiscation of their government benefit cards, which are needed to obtain social benefits, if they refused to vote for the Awami League.

"They said that since the government feeds us, we have to vote for it," Lal Mia, 64, who votes in the central district of Faridpur, told AFP.

An important security system for the election

The BNP and other parties unsuccessfully protested for months in late 2023 to demand the resignation of Sheikh Hasina and a neutral caretaker government to oversee the elections.

Some 25,000 opposition cadres, including all local BNP leaders, were arrested after the protests, in which several people were killed in clashes with police, according to the party. The government reported 11,000 arrests.

In the eastern city of Chittagong, police fired on Sunday, causing no injuries, to disperse about 60 opposition activists who had set up a roadblock to protest the vote, according to local police.

Nearly 700,000 police and reservists were deployed to maintain order during the vote, and nearly 100,000 soldiers, according to the electoral commission.

Bangladesh's security forces have long been accused of excessive use of force, which the government denies.

Since returning to power in 2009, Sheikh Hasina has tightened his grip after two elections marred by irregularities and accusations of fraud.

His economic successes have long supported Sheikh Hasina's popularity. But the difficulties have multiplied recently, with rising prices and widespread power outages.

With AFP

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