Deadly clashes mar ‘farcical’ Bangladesh election

Bangladesh's "farcical" election results should be rejected, the leader of the country's opposition has said after the vote was marred by deadly clashes.

Some 16 people were reportedly killed in election-related violence, while a further 12 died in campaign-related clashes, and thousands of the Prime Minister's opponents are said to have been jailed in the lead up to Sunday.

Speaking as the count got underway, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina looking likely to secure a third consecutive term, opposition leader Kamal Hossain said any outcome would be rejected and demanded a new election be held under the authority of a “non-partisan government.

The election has been seen as a referendum on what critics call Ms Hasina's increasingly authoritarian tendencies.

The campaign was marred by allegations from the opposition of arrests and jailing of thousands of opponents of Ms Hasina.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina flashes a victory sign after casting her vote in Dhaka. Credit: AP

Mr Hossain said a few hours after voting ended, that about 100 candidates from the opposition alliance had withdrawn from their races during the day.

He said the alliance would hold a meeting Monday to decide its next course.

“We call upon the Election Commission to declare this election void and demand a fresh election under a non-partisan government,” Mr Hossain said.

Calls to several Hasina aides seeking comment were not immediately returned.

Bangladesh’s leading English-language newspaper, the Daily Star, said 16 people were killed in 13 districts in election-related violence.

In the run-up to the election, activists from both the ruling party and the opposition complained of attacks on supporters and candidates.

On Sunday, the Associated Press received more than 50 calls from people across the country who identified themselves as opposition supporters complaining of intimidation and threats, and being forced to vote in front of ruling party men inside polling booths.

“Some stray incidents have happened, we have asked our officials to deal with them,” KM Nurul Huda, Bangladesh’s chief election commissioner, said as he cast his vote in Dhaka, the capital.

The election campaign was marred by the arrests and jailing of what the opposition says are thousands of Ms Hasina’s opponents, including six candidates for Parliament.

At least a dozen people were killed in campaign-related clashes.

A Bangladeshi woman places her finger on a biometric reader for verification before casting her vote at a polling station in Dhaka Credit: AP

Ms Hasina has expressed great confidence in the outcome, already inviting foreign journalists and election observers to her official residence on Monday, by which time the results are expected to be known.

While rights groups have sounded the alarms about the erosion of Bangladesh’s democracy, Ms Hasina has promoted a different narrative, highlighting an ambitious economic agenda that has propelled Bangladesh past larger neighbours Pakistan and India by some development measures.

Voters “will give us another opportunity to serve them so that we can maintain our upward trend of development and take Bangladesh forward as a developing country,” Ms Hasina said after casting her ballot along with her daughter and sister in Dhaka.

Ms Hasina’s main rival is former prime minister Khaleda Zia, the leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, who a court deemed ineligible to run for office because she is in prison for corruption.

The two women have been in and out of power – and prison – for decades.

In Ms Zia’s absence, opposition parties formed a coalition led by Mr Hossain, an 82-year-old Oxford-educated lawyer and former member of Hasina’s Awami League party.

On Sunday, some 104 million people in the Muslim-majority country were eligible to vote, including many young, first-time voters.