Bangladesh's Sheikh Hasina wins fifth term as prime minister amid opposition boycott

Hasina, 76, will become the world’s longest-serving female head of government

Sheikh Hasina has accused opposition groups of instigating deadly anti-government protests. AFP
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Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has secured a fifth term in office after her Awami League Party won an absolute majority in elections fraught with violence and a boycott by the main opposition party and its allies.

The South Asian nation held day-long elections on Sunday for 299 seats to elect a prime minister.

Ms Hasina’s party won 223, Rafiqullah Romel, of the Awami League election monitoring committee, told The National.

The Jatiya Party, an alliance of Awami League, won 11 seats, while independent candidates landed 62. Three alliance partners together won three seats, Mr Romel said.

About 120 million voters were choosing from nearly 2,000 candidates for 300 directly elected parliamentary seats. There were 436 independent candidates, the highest number since 2001.

The election commission has not yet declared the official winning total.

Ms Hasina’s victory means the 76-year-old politician, who has been in power for the past 15 years, will become the world’s longest-serving female head of government.

The daughter of the founding father of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Ms Hasina became Prime Minister in 1996.

The Awami League rose to power with a landslide election triumph in 2009 and won its second term in 2014. It was re-elected for the third term in 2018.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by former prime minister Khaleda Zia, boycotted the elections and asked people not to vote after Ms Hasina refused the BNP’s demands to resign and allow a neutral authority to run the election. Several of its allies called the polls “sham elections” and refused to participate.

Ms Hasina accused the opposition of instigating anti-government protests that have rocked the capital Dhaka since late October, and in which at least 14 people have been killed.

"I am trying my best to ensure that democracy should continue in this country,” she said after casting her vote.

The polls were marred by lower voting turnout – 40 per cent was recorded, the chief election commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal announced, compared with 80 per cent in 2018.

Voting was cancelled at three centres due to irregularities.

More than 800,000 security forces were sent to guard polling booths and troops were mobilised nationwide to assist in maintaining peace.

Ms Hasina has instructed her party leaders not to hold any victory procession.

“The results will be declared by this evening,” Mr Romel said.

"We have mixed feelings because there was low turnout because of the boycott from the main opposition party but other than that, there was a fierce fight. Several ministers also left the party and new candidates have won with huge margins.

“The election was to continue with the constitutional process and the party is coming to power for the fourth consecutive time, it is a positive and good feeling.”

The country, home to 174 million people, has become one of the fastest-growing economies and Ms Hasina has been largely credited for turning the economy around.

Bangladesh has worked on reducing poverty and investing in human capital to establish macroeconomic stability.

It reduced extreme poverty in rural areas from 37.9 per cent in 2000 to 21.1 per cent in 2010 and has set the goals of becoming an upper middle-income country by 2031 and a developed country by 2041.

The country has also sheltered large numbers of Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution from neighbouring Myanmar.

But critics accuse Ms Hasina of authoritarianism, human rights breaches, crackdowns on free speech and suppression of dissent.

Updated: January 08, 2024, 4:20 PM