Bangladesh Elections, look into the outcome of the Bangladeshi election in 2023 and its potentially larger repercussions for Sheikh Hasina’s administration’s diplomatic ties with both India and the West.
Bangladesh Elections: Will Any ‘Fair’ Elections Play Out?
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by former Prime Minister Khalida Zia and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League (AL) is ready to face off in the 12th Parliamentary elections on Saturday, January 7.
Following a political squabble between the two parties, the BNP, led by the ill former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, has once again boycotted the polls, as it did in 2014.
Hasina, 76, has been Bangladesh’s prime minister for the past 15 years, making her the country’s longest-serving leader. Hasina’s term has been distinguished by claims of autocratic control, opposition targeting, violation of people’s rights, and widespread vote manipulation in elections held to keep her in power.
Zia, on the other hand, was imprisoned for more than two years on corruption accusations before being transferred to house arrest in 2020 due to health concerns. She, however, contests the charge, claiming that her conviction was politically motivated.
The Bangladesh Parliament, known as Jyatio Shangshad, has 350 seats, 300 of which are chosen by popular vote and the remaining 50 by the ruling parties and coalitions.
Amid a boycott by the BNP and its supporters, a total of 28 parties are running in the elections this year, with 10 candidates from the Ganatantrik Party cleared for the race by the court after their candidacies were annulled. There are a total of 1,970 candidates running in the election, including 434 party candidates and 1,536 independents.
Historically, Bangladesh has seen high-stakes, fiercely contested elections in which the incumbent has been accused of having significant incentives to utilize state apparatus to sway the results. In the months leading up to the elections, Bangladesh has seen increased tensions and bloodshed.
Several opposition leaders have been arrested, resulting in widespread carnage. In October, the country witnessed one of the largest gatherings, attracting tens of thousands of people, headed by the BNP in Dhaka, the capital city.
However, the rally quickly became violent as police used rubber bullets and tear gas against opposition supporters who flung stones and bricks. The capital’s highways were littered with exploding sound grenades, tear gas shells, and broken glass.
The BNP has maintained its position that free and fair elections will never be possible under Hasina’s administration, thereby pushing for a caretaker government.
Furthermore, the international media’s coverage of Bangladeshi politics has granted such a perception and claim by emphasizing the Awami League’s slide toward authoritarianism and concerns about whether elections held under the regime will be free and fair.
Between 1991 and 2008, four elections were held in Bangladesh under a caretaker government, with a non-partisan, technocratic administration conducting the votes. Power would alternate between AL and BNP throughout this period.
However, the AL won a landslide win in 2009 and actively abolished the caretaker system in 2011, causing the opposition BNP to boycott the 2014 elections.
With low voting participation, Hasina won a majority and was re-elected for a second term, with 153 of 300 MPs returning unopposed for the government.
The BNP returned to the polls in 2014, demanding fair play. However, with ballot boxes packed the night before and organized violence by AL activists across the country, voting was practically over by polling day morning, according to sources. A similar situation is predicted this year, with the BNP boycotting the elections, paving the door for Hasina to serve a second term.
Discontent has grown among Bangladeshis in the country and abroad since the 2014 elections, with charges that no genuine elections have been held in the last 15 years, despite the economy struggling since mid-2022.
The poor have been impacted the hardest. Human rights organizations have also condemned the violence by members of Bangladesh’s security forces, and the US has sanctioned them. In 2023, the US also barred visas for Bangladeshi politicians and their family members, citing their ability to destabilize credible elections.
checks out how the Bangladesh election will play out in 2023, as well as the broader impact on Hasina’s government’s diplomatic ties with the West and India.