Clashes, rigging allegations mar Bangladesh poll amid thin turnout

Other News Materials 30 December 2018 12:56 (UTC +04:00)

Clashes between supporters of Bangladesh’s ruling party and its opponents killed at least four people and wounded nearly a dozen on Sunday, a government official and police said, as the country voted in a general election marred by claims of vote rigging, Reuters reports.

Reuters reporters across the country of 165 million people saw sparse turnout at polling booths in the first fully competitive general election in a decade widely expected to be won by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, giving her a third straight term in office.

Mobile internet was blocked and the streets of the capital were largely deserted as many had left to vote in their home towns. Others were seen trickling into polling booths, where posters bearing the ruling Awami League’s “boat” symbol far outnumbered those of the opposition.

Mahbub Talukdar, one of the five election commissioners who stirred a controversy last week by saying there was no level-playing field for the parties, told Reuters he did not see any opposition polling agents near the Dhaka booth where he voted, suggesting they had been kept away.

“I am receiving similar complaints from across the country on phone, but what can I do alone?” he said.

A spokesman for the Election Commission said it would act on any written complaints about the lack of opposition presence at polling centers.

The deadly clashes in the southeast of the Muslim-majority country broke out between workers of the Awami League and its opponents, led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. At least one of the victims was attacked by a machete-carrying group, police said.

Alleging vote manipulation, at least three candidates fighting against the Awami League withdrew from the contest in Khulna, a divisional headquarters around 300 km (186 miles) southwest of Dhaka.

Rasel, a 34-year-old voter in the southeastern district of Chittagong, said he saw police and some Awami League workers he knew stopping people from entering one polling center.

“They told me that ‘voting is going on nicely, you don’t need to go inside’. If you try to enter, you will be in trouble’,” Rasel, who declined to give his second name fearing reprisals, told Reuters by phone.

“The ruling party people were standing outside the polling booth. One I know for sure is an Awami League person. If I forcefully tried to enter, they would have beaten me.”

The Election Commission could not immediately be reached for comment on the alleged Chittagong incident.

The Awami League said opposition supporters were wrongly accusing the party.

“Bangladesh TV channels showing peaceful elections, few isolated incidents,” Hasina’s son and Awami League member Sajeeb Wazed said on Twitter. “Yet opposition increase false allegations of irregularities. Trying controversy as opinion polls show landslide for governing party.”