Hasina, allies win massive victory in Bangladesh (Roundup)

December 30th, 2008 - 8:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghDhaka/New Delhi, Dec 30 (IANS) Former prime minister Sheikh Hasina and the nine-party alliance led by her Awami League recorded a landslide victory Tuesday, winning 259 seats of the 299 seats that figured in Bangladesh’s ninth general election. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promptly congratulated her, and expressed the hope bilateral ties would be strengthened. In Monday’s poll, the Awami League (AL) alone won 230 seats, and the alliance got 259 out of the 299 contested, 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.

Bangladesh has a 300 seat parliament. Elections were rescheduled in Noakhali-1 following the death of a candidate.

The poll results were a crushing 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 Bangladesh political scene since the 1980s. While Zia ruled for two terms - 1991-96 and 2001-06 - Hasina ruled during the intervening period.

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 with the conduct of the poll.

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.

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.

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 Zia’s four-party alliance despite huge preparations and safety measures for a free and fair election.

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.

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.

Bangladesh’s military-backed caretaker government will transfer power to the victors of the Monday poll in a week, a senior official said Tuesday.

Adviser (minister) M. Anwarul Iqbal said the newly elected government will take office in seven days through a gazette publication.

“The new government will be formed after the members-elect take oath as MPs, then the caretaker government will hand over charge to the incumbent new administration,” Iqbal said.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday congratulated Sheikh Hasina and expressed hope about strengthening bilateral ties in the years ahead.

“The prime minister said that India looks forward to working with the government and people of Bangladesh in the years ahead for the mutual benefit of the people of the two countries,” a statement from the prime minister’s office said in New Delhi.

“India congratulates the people of Bangladesh on the fair, peaceful and free conduct of their general elections which mark the return to multi-party democratic politics in a close and friendly neighbour,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Vishnu Prakash said in a statement in New Delhi.

Alluding to the large turnout of voters, India termed the election “a resounding victory for democracy”.

“India and Bangladesh share common values, a commitment to democracy and a multi-faceted historical relationship, in every field of human endeavour,” Prakash said.

“India looks forward to working closely with the newly elected government in Bangladesh to further strengthen our bonds of friendship and cooperation in the quest for peace and development,” he said.

With terrorism in the region a pressing concern, specially after the Mumbai attacks, the victory of Sheikh Hasina has brought some comfort to New Delhi as she took some tough steps against the anti-India militant groups when she was in power in the mid-1990s.

The 61-year-old Sheikh Hasina, whose father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman led the nation to independence, returned to power after spending months in custody on murder and corruption charges.

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