Hasina, allies sweep Bangladesh polls (Lead)

December 30th, 2008 - 1:15 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, Dec 30 (IANS) Former prime minister Sheikh Hasina and the nine-party alliance led by her Awami League raced to a landslide victory Tuesday, winning 259 seats of the 299 seats that figured in Bangladesh’s ninth general election, indicating that people had voted in favour of moderation.In Monday’s poll, the Awami League alone won 230 seats, and the alliance got 259, leaving Hasina’s arch political rival Begum Khaleda Zia with only 29 seats and Zia’s Islamist ally Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) with two. There were four independent winners.

This meant a searing defeat for Zia and her Islamist allies who together enjoyed a two-thirds majority in the last elected parliament (2001-06).

Hasina and Zia represent two competing political legacies and have dominated the political scene since the 1980s. While Zia ruled for two terms - 1991-96 and 2001-06 - Hasina ruled during the intervening period.

While Zia won in all the seats she contested herself, her chief ally, JeI’s Ameer (chief), Motiur Rahman Nizami, scraped through with a narrow margin after trailing for long.

But the loss of over a dozen seats by the JeI could be an indicator that the people of Bangladesh had rejected religious extremism preached by him and others of the Islami Oikya Jote (Islamist alliance). The latter failed to open its account this time.

This was a signal to the world community, political analysts said, that has serious concerns about the spread of terrorism in the name of religion in South Asia.

While Hasina counselled calm as results poured in, Zia complained of irregularities in 220 seats in the Monday poll, hinting at rigging.

Both the women contenders, as also the caretaker government and the Election Commission tasked to conduct a free and fair poll, had Monday expressed satisfaction.

“No matter whatever the outcome is, the question is if it is held in a free and fair manner,” the chief of Zia’s four-party alliance had said Monday.

The international observers, among them the European Union (EU), also testified to a fair poll that saw an estimated 70 percent turnout of the 80 million electorate.

Hasina’s chief ally, Jatiya Party of former military ruler Hossain Mohammed Ershad, won a surprising 27 seats. As per a broad understanding reached with Hasina in the past, Ershad could throw his hat in the ring when the presidential elections take place next year.

All three - Hasina and Ershad, as also Zia - scored stunning victories in the multiple constituencies they contested from.

A major BNP loss was that of the speaker of the last elected Jatiya Sangsad (National Assembly), Barrister Jamiruddin Serker, who lost in Pachagarh-1 in northern Bangladesh.

Also defeated were several former Zia ministers, including finance minister M. Saifur Rahman and Maudud Ahmed.

Maudud Ahmed, once a leading light of the Awami League, had switched to Ershad and then to Zia, to emerge as the main troubleshooter on legal and constitutional matters. He was one of those convicted by a court and jailed, but allowed to contest the poll.

The Awami League (AL) victory spelt triumph for a number of minority Hindu nominees. Among them were Suranjit Sengupta (Sunamganj-1), a member of AL Presidium, Narayan Chandra Chanda (Khulna-5), Ramesh Chandra Sen (Thakurgaon-1) and Monoranjan Gopal Sheel (Dinajpur-1).

Minority voters in different areas in Chittagong received threats from workers of the four-party alliance despite huge preparations and safety measures for a free and fair election.

Islami Chhatra Shibir activists and workers of Salauddin Quader Chowdhury allegedly issued the threats in remote poll centres. But the minority voters braved the situation and cast votes, despite facing goons on their way to poll centres.

But a significant number of voters, especially the indigenous people and Biharis (non-Bengalis) could not vote as they were not on the new voter roll, Star Online said Tuesday.

The results indicated that the BNP had secured most of its seats from urban areas, including seven from Dhaka, besides Chittagong port town.

Hasina’s alliance had scored both in urban and rural areas. Among her major losers was Matia Chowdhury, a AL presidium member.

Among the winners were two former army officers who fought for the country’s liberation.

Major (retd) Rafiqul Islam, winner of top gallantry award Bir Uttam, won from Chandpur-5, while Col. (retd) Oli Ahmed, a minister in Zia’s government who fell out with her, won from Chittagong-13.

A.Q.M. Badrudozza Chowdhury, a former president, who fell out with Zia and floated his own party, lost at the hustings.

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