Bangladesh Prime Minister (PM) Sheikh Hasina has won a fourth consecutive term in a contentious election.
Ms. Hasina will remain in office for another five years after her Awami League and its allies won at least 152 of the 300 parliamentary seats up for grabs.
Ms Hasina’s party and allies are expected to win the remaining seats despite the boycott of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
The BNP claimed the election was a sham.
The outcome on Sunday follows a wave of arrests of BNP leaders and supporters.
Official figures suggested a low voter turnout of around 40%, but critics say even those figures may be exaggerated.
Independents, almost entirely from the Awami League, won 45 seats, while the Jatiya Party won eight. The results are expected to be made public later on Monday.
Ms Hasina is serving her fifth term as prime minister, having first taken office in 1996 and being re-elected in 2009.
“I’m doing everything I can to ensure that democracy continues in this country,” she told reporters as she voted.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) estimates that nearly 10,000 activists were arrested after an opposition rally on October 28 turned violent, killing at least 16 people and injuring over 5,500 others. It accused the government of “crowding prisons with political opponents of the ruling Awami League.”
The Awami League has denied these allegations.
There are fears that the Awami League’s new victory will lead to de facto one-party rule.
Few people believe the government will ease up on its crackdown. Even more so if opposition parties and civil society groups continue to question the government’s legitimacy.
After the Awami League rejected their demand for an independent caretaker government to preside over the polls, the BNP boycotted the election.
Until then, “our peaceful and non-violent movement will vigorously continue,” Tarique Rahman, the BNP’s acting chairman, told the BBC via email from London, where he has been based since 2008.
Mr Rahman, the son of Ms Hasina’s bitter rival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, also denied allegations that BNP party workers were involved in arson attacks ahead of the election.
Ms. Zia is currently under house arrest on corruption charges.
Mr. Rahman was sentenced to life in prison in 2018 after being convicted in absentia of orchestrating a grenade attack on a campaign rally for Ms. Hasina in 2004. In that incident, Ms Hasina was injured, and at least 20 others were killed.
“All allegations against me are baseless and rooted in political vengeance,” he told reporters.
However, Ms Hasina’s supporters argue that she has brought much-needed political stability to Bangladesh.
“We have maintained the democratic process that has resulted in this political stability.” “I believe the world should give Sheikh Hasina credit for that,” Mr Huq said.
Ms Hasina’s single most significant achievement in the last 15 years has been “the confidence that she has instilled in the minds of the people of Bangladesh.” “They’ve learned to trust themselves,” he added.
Bangladesh under Ms Hasina paints a different picture. Since 2009, the Muslim-majority country, which was once among the poorest in the world, has achieved credible economic success under her leadership.
It is now one of the region’s fastest-growing economies, even outpacing its massive neighbor India. Its per capita income has tripled in the last decade, and the World Bank estimates that it has lifted more than 25 million people out of poverty in the last 20 years. It is also, after China, the world’s second-largest garment producer.
However, the economy collapsed in mid-2022 as a result of the pandemic and a global economic slowdown.
With rising inflation and the terms of an IMF loan it obtained earlier kicking in, the government may struggle to deal with public outrage.
International pressure is also increasing.
Washington began imposing visa restrictions on Bangladeshi officials found guilty of undermining the country’s democratic election process in September.
The UN and other international organizations have also expressed concern about human rights violations and repression of dissent.
However, Ms Hasina is aware that any threat of major sanctions by the West can be mitigated as long as India stands by her.
Developed countries are also aware that removing concessions from Bangladesh’s garment industry would affect millions of workers, the majority of whom are women.
Ms Hasina first became Prime Minister of Bangladesh in 1996. She was re-elected in 2009 and has remained in power ever since, making her Bangladesh’s longest-serving leader.
She will be 81 by the end of her term as Prime Minister. Many people in Bangladesh, including Awami League supporters, are concerned about who will succeed her.
According to some analysts, “the election result was clear, but the future appears uncertain.”