Bangladesh voters go to the polls in one-sided election marred by violence | World News – 943hare

Violence has been reported in Bangladesh as 120 million people are set to vote in a general election that has a foregone conclusion.

There have been a total of 18 arson attacks, including 10 on polling booths in the last 48 hours, authorities said.

On Friday, four people including one child were killed when a passenger train heading towards the capital, Dhaka, was set on fire.

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Four dead after fire on Bangladesh train

A total of 120 million people are eligible to vote in Sunday’s election – which will grant Sheikh Hasina a fifth term in office, her fourth consecutive one.

The 76-year-old will then be the longest-serving head of state in Bangladesh‘s history.

The main opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by Khaleda Zia, has boycotted the election after demanding Ms Hasina steps down to make way for a caretaker government that could organise a fair vote.

Their call was met with a severe government crackdown, which saw at least 11 BNP members killed and tens of thousands arrested by security forces during protests last year.

Bangladesh’s national parliament, the Jatiya Sangsad, has 350 MPs, of which 300 will be elected in Sunday’s vote.

The remaining 50 seats are reserved for women selected by the ruling party or coalition government.

The election result will be declared on Monday, though nobody is in doubt about who the winner will be.

A woman carries her child while casting her vote at the Dhaka Residential Model College voting centre, during the 12th general election in Dhaka, Bangladesh, January 7, 2024. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
A woman carries her child while voting

Awami League, the ruling party, has dominated the country’s political landscape for decades.

Ms Hasina, the daughter of the country’s founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, has been praised for making its $416bn (£327bn) economy one of the fastest growing in the world.

She has also won international praise for sheltering nearly one million Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in neighbouring Myanmar.

Bangladesh is one of the largest ready-made garment exporters and clothing accounts for more than 80% of the country’s exports.

Ms Hasina has campaigned on her track record of modernising and improving the lives of more than four million garment workers, most of whom are women.

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Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina arrives to cast her vote in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Sunday 7 January Pic: AP Photo/Altaf Qadri
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina casts her vote in Dhaka. Pic: AP Photo/Altaf Qadri

However, the pandemic stalled the garment industry’s growth, and the rise of fuel costs due to the Russia-Ukraine war has put a huge strain on the economy, depleting foreign exchange reserves and weakening the domestic currency.

Bangladesh is also experiencing a cost-of-living crisis, which sparked violent protests last year, before a $4.7bn (£3.7bn) International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout cleared the first review in December.

Ms Hasina’s government has faced allegations of being authoritarian, rigging elections, suppressing people’s votes and targeting opposition parties.

People buy snacks from a road side vendor as election campaign posters of Awami League are hung over a street, ahead of the general election, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, January 5, 2024. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Awami League campaign posters on a street in the capital city

Human Rights Watch condemned the arrests of opposition members last year, and said “the government’s autocratic crackdown will jeopardise future economic cooperation” with other countries.

The US also previously raised concerns over human rights and imposed sanctions on two Bangladeshi security officials for alleged extrajudicial killings.

Opposition leader Ms Zia has been under house arrest for over two years on corruption charges, which she denies.

Her son, Tarique Rahman, the acting chairman of the party, is in exile in London. In August, he was sentenced to nine years in prison for amassing illegal wealth but he was not in court for the verdict.

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