Election eve: Outcome a foregone conclusion, opposition neutralised

Tomorrow Bangladeshis will pick 299 Members of Parliament. The ruling Awami League is favoured to win. The opposition coalition, led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has been weakened by arrests and killings. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina seeks re-election to continue her government’s programme. Internet has been curtailed or slowed down in various cities.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – More than 103.8 million voters will go to the polls in Bangladesh tomorrow to elect 299 Members of parliament.

A day before the election, "the outcome seems a foregone conclusion, given that the opposition has been neutralised,” a local source told AsiaNews.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is expected to be re-elected. “Little else can expected. Confusion reigns supreme across the country,” the source added.

The two main contenders since independence in 1971 are the Awami League (Al) of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), whose leader, Khaleda Zia, is behind bars serving a 10-year sentence.

The campaign has been marred by numerous episodes of violence, including attacks against election rallies, which have left four people dead. The BNP opposition party has denounced the arrest of at least 8,200 of its activists and the injuring of another 12,300, although the figures are not confirmed by official authorities.

Internet services have been curtailed or slowed down in recent days, with the opposition complaining that pro-BNP websites were deliberately targeted in a plan to hinder its campaign.

Against this background, "nobody has clear ideas,” the source explained. “The government’s behaviour is quite incomprehensible, with summary arrests of opponents, the disappearance of activists and the crackdown on drug traffickers. The only thing certain is that Hasina wants re-election at all costs."

The source admits that the incumbent government has made some strides. "Infrastructures have improved, access to healthcare has increased, economic growth has reached 8 per cent. This is an exceptional result, although the country started from very low levels."

The government "has really shown that it can be incisive and wants to maintain continuity in administration and the reform process."

For its part, the BNP "has hurt itself when it allowed some members of the (banned) terrorist Jamaat-e-Islami to run under its banner."

Kamal Hossain, a famous lawyer and former foreign minister when Hasina's father was in power, is a member of the opposition 20-party coalition. He is now one of her most resolute opponents, complaining of the danger that “the Awami League will become a dictatorship".