Polling for the 11th General Elections began at 8 am local time (7.30 am Indian Standard Time) at 40,183 polling stations amid tight security, and ended at 4 pm, PTI reported. More than 10.41 crore voters were expected to exercise their franchise, the Dhaka Tribune reported.
According to the country’s Election Commission, 1,848 candidates contested 299 of the 300 parliamentary seats. The elections will decide if Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party get a third straight term. If elected, this will be a record fourth term for Hasina.
Political activist Meraj Ali was killed in a clash between the Awami League and the Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party in Rajshahi. Jubo League leader Basir Uddin was killed in Chattogram, BD News24 reported. Those injured have been admitted to Kawkhali Upazila Health Complex in Kawkhali, PTI quoted Awami League General Secretary Ershad Mia as saying.
Hasina confident of victory
Opposition parties earlier accused the police of arresting thousands of their leaders and activists in order to “create an atmosphere of fear”.
Hasina on Saturday said the Opposition might boycott the elections in the middle of voting as part of a “political trick” to evade a “humiliating defeat”. “I want to caution all about the character of the BNP... they may say in the middle [of the elections] that we are boycotting the polls,” the 71-year-old said. “In that case, I will ask our candidates and other contenders to continue polls until the voting is ended.”
At least 45 opposition candidates boycotted the elections, accusing the ruling party of vote rigging and ballot stuffing, The Daily Star reported.
However, Bangladesh Nationalist Party Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said there was no dispute in the party about participating in the polls. “But what we see, there is no festive mood anywhere and rather a sense of fright is prevailing across the country due to government intimidation,” he said.
Alamgir claimed that the Jatiya Oikya Front – a coalition of Opposition parties of which the Bangladesh Nationalist Party is a member – will win if the elections are free and fair. The party has stayed out of Parliament since it boycotted the 2014 general elections.
Hasina said her party would win the elections, PTI reported. “People will cast their vote for Awami League to ensure the win of pro-Liberation forces,” she added.
Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda said the polls were “peaceful overall”, apart from a few “sporadic incidents” of violence.
The main Opposition party is without its chief Khaleda Zia and her son Tarique Rahman, who is the party’s acting chief. Zia, currently serving a 10-year prison sentence in a corruption case, has been barred from contesting the polls, while Rahman is reportedly in London to evade law-enforcement agencies. He was sentenced to life for allegedly masterminding a grenade attack on a rally in 2004 that killed 24 Awami League leaders and activists.
Security forces have been asked to keep vigil on religious minorities. At least three Hindu households were set on fire between December 16 and 26. The country’s telecom regulator on Thursday suspended high-speed internet services for several hours ahead of the elections.
Meanwhile, leading news channel Jamuna TV was allegedly taken off the air late on Saturday. “Cable operators took Jamuna TV off air without giving us any explanation,” Fahim Ahmed, the station’s chief news editor, told AFP. “We are still transmitting. But no one in Bangladesh can see our channel due to the blackout.”
Salma Islam, a member of the family that owns the channel, is an independent candidate contesting a ruling party nominee.