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Bangladesh prepares for 'one-sided' legislative elections

France Media Agency Under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina's party, the Awami League, the country once plagued by extreme poverty has experienced accelerated growth, thanks to the development of a textile industry that supplies the world's biggest ready-to-wear brands .

Shafiqul Alam – Agence France-Presse to Dhaka

January 5, 2024

  • Asia

Bangladesh votes on Sunday in legislative elections which should offer Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina a fifth term, after a boycott of opposition parties decimated by a massive wave of arrests.

Under the leadership of his party, the Awami League, the country once plagued by extreme poverty has experienced accelerated growth, thanks to the development of a textile industry that supplies the largest loan brands- to-port from the world.

But Hasina's tenure was also marred by numerous human rights violations and her government restricted civil and press freedoms.

The main opposition movement, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and other parties, staged protests last year to demand the resignation of the prime minister and promote a government neutral interim to supervise the elections, without success.

Some 25,000 opposition leaders, including all local BNP leaders, were arrested in a wave of repression that followed, according to the party. The government, for its part, reported 11,000 arrests.

The Awami League faces little competition for parliamentary seats, but has not fielded candidates for a small minority of constituencies, ruling out the scenario of a single chamber entirely under its control. control.

“One-sided election”

Many young voters say they do not intend to participate in Sunday's vote, due to a lack of real choice. “I’m not going to waste my time on a one-sided election,” Sohanur Rahman, 28, a computer science graduate, told AFP.

The political scene in the country of 170 million people has long been dominated by the rivalry between Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of the country's founder, and Khaleda Zia, a two-time prime minister and wife of a former military leader.

Ms Hasina, 76, has dominated since returning to power in 2009, and has strengthened her control after two elections marred by irregularities and accusations of fraud.

Convicted of corruption in 2018, Khaleda Zia, 78, is detained in a hospital in the capital Dhaka due to poor health.

His son Tarique Rahman leads the BNP in his place from London, where he has lived in exile since 2008, after several convictions in his country.

He told AFP that his party, along with dozens of others, refused to participate in an election whose outcome was “predetermined”.

“Participating in elections under Hasina, against the aspirations of the Bangladeshi people, would undermine the sacrifices of those who fought, shed their blood and gave their lives for democracy,” he said. -he declared.

Sheikh Hasina accused the BNP of arson and sabotage during the mostly peaceful protests, in which several people were killed in clashes with police.

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

The United States, Bangladesh's largest export market, has sanctioned an elite police unit accused of numerous extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances.

According to analysts and the opposition, Sheikh Hasina is seeking to obtain high participation to strengthen the legitimacy of the vote, with measures to encourage voting.

“It is not appropriate to call this an ‘election,’” Ali Riaz, a professor at Illinois State University, told AFP. “It’s more of a spectacle put on by the ruling party. »

“Potentially dangerous combination”

The success of her economic policies has long guaranteed Sheikh Hasina's popularity, but difficulties have increased recently, with rising prices of most basic goods and widespread power outages in 2022.

The refusal of wage increases demanded by textile workers, a sector that generates 85% of the country's $55 billion in annual exports, sparked social unrest in late 2023, with factories burned and hundreds more closed.

The government is “less popular than a few years ago, but Bangladeshis have few real options at the polling station,” notes Pierre Prakash of the International Crisis Group. These frustrations could portend political violence later, he believes. “It’s a potentially dangerous combination. »

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116