Bangladesh PM takes firmer grip on rural polls

Bangladesh PM took a firmer grip on the country's rural powerbase after candidates backed by her Awami League won a majority in local elections.

Bangladesh PM takes firmer grip on rural polls

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took a firmer grip on the country's rural powerbase after candidates backed by her Awami League won a majority in local elections held on Thursday amid charges of violence and rigging.

Reported violence was scattered and far lower than in previous local polls, although authorities did suspend voting in seven out of 481 sub-districts.

Unofficial results from 426 areas showed that Awami supporters won 286 and those from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) got 68. The remaining positions went to candidates backed by the Jamaat-e-Islami, Jatiya Party and independents.

The rural vote follows a Dec. 29 general election that swept a grand alliance led by Hasina's Awami League to power.

The BNP, led by rival former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, alleged the national vote was widely rigged, though independent monitors billed it fair and credible.

On Friday, the BNP said the rural elections were "grossly rigged" with Awami activists stuffing ballot boxes, forcing BNP agents out of polling stations and intimidating voters.

Awami spokesman Syed Ashraful Islam denied the charges.

Chief Election Commissioner A.T.M. Shamsul Huda said there were "irregularities" in Thursday's polls, which he said were "influenced by people from the ruling party, including members of parliament and even ministers".

Though the rural vote was technically a non-party election, both the Awami League and the BNP backed candidates in large numbers to assert control in the villages, where 80 percent of Bangladesh's more than 140 million people live.

The rural bodies control local development and social welfare projects, mostly funded by foreign governments or agencies.

Poll chief Huda told reporters late on Thursday that he was "dismayed by the unexpectedly low turnout of voters and that the vote failed to reflect people's popular will".

Independent estimates said around 50 percent voters cast their ballots on Thursday, compared with more than 85 percent in the Dec. 29 election.

BNP leader Rizvi Ahmed said his party would protest against what he called unfair tactics by the Awami League.

But Rizvi he did not say if they would take their protests to the streets as have losers in many of the country's past polls, halting business and scaring away investors.

Analysts and foreign supporters of Bangladesh have been looking for it to achieve a degree of political peace and stability that will help it attract needed investment and aid.

Hasina began her second five-year spell in power on Jan. 6, after two years of rule by a military-backed interim authority, and promised good governance as one of her top priorities.

Reuters
Last Mod: 23 Ocak 2009, 09:44
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