Bangladesh Vote Marred by Deadly Unrest Amid Opposition Boycott

Violence on Bangladesh’s election day left at least 18 people dead as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed was poised to win another five-year term amid a boycott by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

The toll reached 18 as protesters set fire to more than 100 polling stations, the Associated Press said late yesterday. At least 10 people with ties to opposition parties were killed along with a government security guard in six districts of the South Asian nation, the Daily Star newspaper reported.

Three of the casualties were in Rangpur and Nilphamari in northern Bangladesh after police opened fire when activists linked to opposition ally Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing attacked two polling stations, the Daily Star reported. A Bangladesh Nationalist Party supporter also died in clashes with activists from the ruling Awami League in Lalmonirhat, the newspaper said.

In another incident, a polling official in the Thakurgaon district was bludgeoned to death, Bhupen Chandra Roy, a duty officer at the local police station, said by phone yesterday.

The electoral authority suspended voting in about 100 polling stations out of a total of 18,208 due to the arson attacks and vandalism, Muhammed Sadique, secretary of the Election Commission, said in a phone interview. The polling stations, mostly schools, were set ablaze by attackers with suspected ties to the opposition in 32 districts, according to the Prothom Alo newspaper.

“The election is progressing smoothly in most of our polling stations,” Sadique said. “Voter turnout was a bit low in the morning and I hope the turnout will improve later.”

Troops Deployed

Hasina’s Awami League needs to win only 24 of the 147 seats that were up for grabs yesterday for a parliamentary majority after taking 127 of the 153 uncontested constituencies.

About half of the 91.9 million voters didn’t have to go to the polling stations to cast votes because 153 candidates were elected unopposed, according to data from the Election Commission. Voting started in the remaining 147 seats in the 10th parliamentary election since the nation’s founding in 1971.

The commission plans to extend the deployment of troops in trouble spots to maintain law and order, Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad told reporters in Dhaka on Jan. 2. The BNP and its allies started an indefinite, nationwide blockade of highways, waterways and roads on Jan. 1 to force the government to abandon the polls.

Opposition Demands

Opposition parties want a caretaker administration to oversee the vote, a practice implemented in the past three elections after a demand from the Awami League in the 1990s when it was in the opposition. Hasina’s prosecution of Islamist leaders aligned with the BNP for war crimes that took place four decades ago during the country’s founding has spurred attacks with arson and home-made bombs.

Bangladesh has seen several coups and two dozen smaller rebellions since the nation gained independence from Pakistan in 1971 in a war that left an estimated 3 million people dead. Leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s biggest Islamic party that is aligned with the BNP, had supported Pakistan in the conflict and have faced charges of war crimes.

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