The battle lines are drawn between two dominant forces: the Awami League (AL), led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), helmed by Begum Khaleda Zia. The AL, in power for three consecutive terms, touts its economic growth and development agenda.
A Contested Landscape
The electoral landscape is far from level. The BNP and its allies allege widespread irregularities in voter lists, with millions of alleged ghost voters and disenfranchisement of opposition supporters. They point to the arrest of political opponents, intimidation tactics, and media bias favouring the AL as evidence of a rigged process. The AL, on the other hand, dismisses these claims as unfounded and accuses the opposition of trying to discredit democracy.
Violence Erupts on Eve of Polls
Violence erupted on the eve of the election as a passenger train was set on fire, killing at least four people. Several polling booths were also set ablaze around the country. The pre-poll violence occurred on Friday, January 5, 2024 at around 9:05 PM, killed four people. Officials called the incident a “planned attack.” The CID team collected DNA samples from the relatives of the victims to identify the bodies.
Nearly Half of Voters are Women
Women make up nearly half of the nearly 120 million eligible voters in Bangladesh. This election also sees a record number of first-time voters, with about 15 million people casting their ballots for the first time The Election Commission had published the final voters’ list for the 12th parliamentary polls with 11,96,91,633 voters. there are 60,771,579 male voters, 58,919,202 female voters, and 852 hijra voters.
A total of nearly 2,000 candidates are vying for the 300 directly elected parliament seats. There is also a record high number of women candidates in the fray, with 5.1 per cent of the candidates being women.
Hasina’s Record in Power
During Sheikh Hasina’s third term in office, Bangladesh has seen significant economic growth. The country’s $416-billion economy has turned around, and its massive garment industry has thrived. Hasina has also been praised internationally for sheltering nearly a million Rohingya Muslims fleeing from neighbouring Myanmar.However, the country’s economy has recently been rocked by violent protests after a jump in the cost of living. Bangladesh also struggles to pay for costly energy imports amid depleting dollar reserves and a domestic currency.
IMF Bailout and International Observers
The International Monetary Fund cleared the first review of Bangladesh’s $4.7 billion bailout in December. This provided immediate access to $468.3 million and set $221.5 million for its climate change agenda. Nearly 800,000 police, paramilitary and police auxiliaries will guard the polls on election day. The army, navy and air force have also been deployed. As many as 127 foreign observers will track the election process.
The international community, including the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations, are observing the Bangladesh elections closely. They have urged both parties to uphold democratic norms, ensure transparency, and respect the outcome. The presence of international observers adds another layer of scrutiny, raising the stakes for both sides.
Ahead of Bangladesh Elections, Hasina Bats for Close ties with Bharat
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in her manifesto for the upcoming elections, pledged continued cooperation and friendly relations with India.The manifesto highlights the resolution of land boundary issues and enclave exchange as a major achievement, encouraging further collaboration. Beyond security and trade, Hasina is eager to expand cooperation with India, Bhutan, and Nepal and would work towards including joint water and energy management.
The Potential Outcome
The possible outcome of the election range from a decisive victory for the AL, solidifying its hold on power, to a close and contested result potentially leading to political unrest and instability. A BNP-led victory, though unlikely, would signal a significant shift in the political landscape and pose a challenge to the AL’s dominance.
Regardless of the immediate outcome, the elections carry broader implications for Bangladesh’s future. A peaceful and fair process can bolster the country’s democratic credentials and attract foreign investment. However, a contested outcome or allegations of manipulation could erode public trust in democratic institutions and trigger social unrest.
The Road Ahead
The immediate focus is on ensuring a smooth and credible election process. The Election Commission faces a critical task in addressing concerns, upholding transparency, and guaranteeing the free exercise of the right to vote. Following the elections, the focus will shift to the formation of a new government and addressing the nation’s pressing challenges, including economic development, poverty alleviation, and ensuring fundamental rights and freedoms for all citizens.
Bangladesh’s 12th parliamentary election is more than just a contest between parties. It is a test of the country’s democratic maturity and a chance to define its future. The coming days and weeks will be crucial, not just for Bangladesh but for the future of democracy in South Asia and beyond.