Bangladesh polls ‘not free or fair’

local elections marred by clashes and vote rigging

At least 10 people were killed and thousands injured in clashes between supporters and candidates of rival parties during the latest Bangladesh local elections, police and poll monitors said last sunday (29).

Unprecedented levels of violence and allegations of poll rigging have marred local council elections held in phases since March, with at least 90 people killed in total, according to monitors.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s ruling Awami League is looking to tighten its grip on power in the polls, as Bangladesh reels from a protracted political crisis.

During the latest round of voting last Saturday (28), three people were killed in central Jamalpur district and another seven elsewhere around the country, police officials said.

A police officer injured in poll violence last month also died in a Dhaka hospital last Saturday, an officer said.
In Jamalpur, hundreds of armed supporters of an Awami League candidate clashed with rivals supporting a candidate who had defected from the party, police said.

“Three people died. They had bullet marks and arrow injuries,” Jamalpur deputy police chief Shariful Haq said, adding police opened fire to bring the situation under control.

A candidate from the main opposition Bangla- desh Nationalist Party (BNP) was stabbed to death in eastern Comilla district while another was killed in southern Chittagong, police said.

The Election Working Group (EWG), funded by US charity the Asia Foundation, said the election commission had “utterly failed to conduct free and fair polls” mainly because it had no authority over police and local officials.

The BNP has criticised the election commission’s handling of the local polls, saying there had been widespread intimidation of opposition candidates and looting of ballots boxes by ruling party supporters.

Both the Awami League and the election commission have said the polls have been fair. The final phase will be held next month.

Bangladesh has been hit by a political crisis since the BNP and other opposition parties boycotted the 2014 general election. Scores of people were killed in firebomb attacks on vehicles last year when BNP leader Khaleda Zia called a trans- port blockade as part of her efforts to force the government to hold fresh elections.

Hasina’s secular government launched a crackdown in response to the violence, with thousands of opposition supporters arrested, particularly those from the main Islamist party. (AFP)