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Bangladesh Opposition Denies Election Result, Claims Vote-Rigging

Some were told, inside the polling booth, to vote in a particular manner; others were excluded from voting itself.

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Bangladesh, election
Women stand in a line at a voting center to cast their ballot during the general election in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dec. 30, 2018. VOA

While Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is preparing to form a government for a record third consecutive term, her party’s landslide win in Sunday’s general elections has been tainted by violence and allegations of vote-rigging.

After reports began piling up of alleged manipulation of votes and voters, as well as reports of opposition party polling agents not being allowed to enter voting centers by ruling party supporters, the Jatiya Oikya Front (JOF), the largest opposition alliance, has called for Sunday’s election to be declared null and void.

JOF chairman Kamal Hossain said a “vote robbery” had taken place across the country.

“We reject the reported results of this farcical election and are calling for a fresh election under a nonpartisan government,” Hossain said.

The election authority, however, rejected the accusation of vote-rigging and said Sunday’s polling would stand.

‘Cannot conduct another…election’

“Across the country, huge number(s) of people enthusiastically took part in the election in a peaceful environment. The 30 December polling has now made way to the formation of a new government. … No, we cannot conduct another fresh election now. This is no way possible at all,” said Bangladesh’s chief election commissioner, Nurul Huda.

Bagladesh, election
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gestures after casting her vote in the morning during the general election in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dec. 30, 2018. VOA

 

After the Awami League (AL) and its allies won 288 of the 300 parliamentary seats in Sunday’s polling, the election commission said the ruling party would form the government. The main opposition alliance of JOF won six seats.

The country’s first contested election in a decade has been marred by weeks of violence, allegedly unleashed by ruling party supporters, a mass arrest of opposition party leaders and activists, and the deaths of at least 17 people on Sunday.

​The government had promised the election would be free, fair and all-inclusive. Weeks before the election, however, opposition party candidates began reporting attacks by supporters of the ruling Awami League party.

Opposition candidates filed hundreds of complaints with election authorities, alleging ruling party supporters were not allowing them to carry out their campaigns.

Video clips, which claimed to show AL leaders violently threatening opposition party supporters to stay away from polling places, circulated in social media during the run-up to Sunday’s election.

Bangladesh, violence, election
An opposition BNP activist is being arrested by policemen in Dhaka. In 2018, thousands of opposition leaders and activists were arrested in Bangladesh on allegedly trumped up cases of political violence. VOA

 

Allegations of intimidation

The opposition alliance alleged tens of thousands of its polling agents, intimidated by ruling party activists, were forced to stay away from polling stations around the country Sunday.

The alliance also alleged that in the presence of election and security officials, Awami League polling agents and supporters illegally stuffed ballot boxes at many voting centers. One JOF candidate reported that he witnessed AL activists stuffing ballots at a voting center in his constituency. His claim could not be independently verified.

Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir claimed Sunday’s election was massively rigged by the Awami League and the rigging began starting Saturday evening. BNP, the largest opposition party in Bangladesh, is a member of the JOF alliance.

“We were reported (on Saturday night) that police had entered different voting centers, accompanied by Awami League leaders and activists, before leaving the place after half or one hour. In the presence of the election officials, they stuffed the ballot boxes during the night,” Alamgir said.

Senior AL leader Mahbubul Alam Hanif said the charge of rigging was baseless.

“Can they present any evidence of rigging? Can they show any evidence of any booth being captured by force or some people casting votes fraudulently? They cannot present any evidence in support of their charge. Yet, they are claiming that votes have been rigged,” Hanif told VOA.

Bangladesh, election
An opposition BNP activist is being arrested by policemen in Dhaka. In 2018, thousands of opposition leaders and activists were arrested in Bangladesh on allegedly trumped up cases of political violence. VOA

 

Despite Bangladesh’s chief election commissioner saying no to new elections, JOF chairman Hossain said Tuesday that his alliance would submit a memorandum to the election commission Thursday, calling for a fresh election.

In a statement Tuesday, the European Union said that “Violence has marred the election day, and significant obstacles to a level playing field remained in place throughout the process and have tainted the electoral campaign and the vote.” The EU called for “a proper examination of allegations of irregularities.”

Forming new government

Yet AL is also preparing to form the new government, with winning candidates taking their parliamentary oaths on Thursday. An official noted the process would be completed by January 10.

After declaring victory, Hasina said in an address that her aim is to work for the “welfare of the people” of Bangladesh.

bangladesh, election
Salahuddin Ahmed, a Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) candidate for general election, is seen bleeding as he was stabbed on a election day in Dhaka, Dec. 30, 2018. VOA

 

“(Victory in) this election has given me a chance to work for the country for five more years. … I am thankful to all for this,” she said.

Despite the pace of forming a new government, many rights issue groups say the allegations of vote-rigging cannot be ignored.

Iftekharuzzaman (who uses one name), executive director of anti-graft watchdog Transparency International Bangladesh, called for a judicial probe over the reported cases of rigging in Sunday’s election.

“Conduct of fair probe of such incidents by the EC to determine its deficit and making this public are essential in our view,” Iftekharuzzaman told VOA.

Also Read: Bangladesh Prime Minister Wins Another Term, Opposition Rejects Result

“In addition, ensuring justice through a judicial probe of the allegations of immense value for the credibility, self-confidence and public trust in the government, that is being formed in the wake of an unprecedented outcome of an unprecedented election,” he added.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of the international rights advocacy group Human Rights Watch, said reports that people were not allowed to vote as they wished is a very serious allegation.

“Some were told, inside the polling booth, to vote in a particular manner; others were excluded from voting itself. These are all very serious allegations and the opposition is already calling for a re-poll, and the government must address all these concerns as soon as possible,” Ganguly told VOA. “The international community cannot ignore these allegations and should take them seriously.” (VOA)

Next Story

Bangladesh Turns to Fill Ever-Growing Gap Between Energy Consumption and Supply by FDI

With 95% of the population now having access to electricity, Bangladesh is focusing on increasing its use of renewable energy as climate and other environmental concerns are growing across the globe

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energy industry, bangladesh
A Bangladeshi man works on the tangled electric cables hanging above a street in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dec. 12, 2017. VOA

Bangladesh has long struggled with power outages, with the nation experiencing its worst electricity crises in 2008 and 2009. Reports said one blackout, in 2014, affected as many as 100 million people — more than 60% of the population.

With a growing economy and a large population, the country always runs the risk of hampering its development process, which could cause instability. To counteract this, Bangladesh has turned to courting foreign direct investment to fill its ever-growing gap between energy consumption and supply. Companies from Britain, China, India and the United States have invested in the energy industry in Bangladesh.

With 95% of the population now having access to electricity, Bangladesh is focusing on increasing its use of renewable energy as climate and other environmental concerns are growing across the globe.

In an exclusive interview with VOA, Dr. Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, energy adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, talks about how a developing country like Bangladesh is taking initiatives to bring power to the entire population by 2021 that will include an increase in green energy alternatives.

energy industry, bangladesh
Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali, left, shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi before a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing Friday, June 29, 2018. VOA

VOA: In your address during during Bangladesh Energy and Power Summit 2018, you said investment and development of innovative technologies are the two major issues that need to be given more priority to meet the power generation targets. What steps have you taken so far to achieve this?

Chowdhury: Since 2009, we have mobilized $20 billion of investment in the power sector projects, which has been approved and are being implemented. Half of this $20 billion investment will come from the private sector. We are encouraging foreign private investors to come and invest in the power sector.

Moving away from a policy of relying on domestic investment or investments from multilateral agencies like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, our government went out to the market and involved the private sector, in particular the foreign companies who have made bids for various power projects, to raise funds on their own.

In terms of development of innovative technologies, we have established the Bangladesh Energy and Power Research Council to develop technological solutions, which are environmentally friendly. The council also aims to promote research and innovation in sustainable renewable energy.

VOA: As of 2018, Bangladesh had a capacity of generating power of 18,000 megawatts and your goal is to generate 60,000 megawatts by 2041. But how much of this 60,000 would be renewable energy?

Chowdhury: I would say 10% is a good target. We are building a nuclear power plant with 1,200 megawatts of electricity generation capacity that can be upgraded to generating up to 2,400 megawatts.

energy industry, bangladesh
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addresses the India Ideas Summit in Washington, D.C., June 12, 2019. VOA

We are also exploring possibilities of using wind energy turbines in five or six areas of the country, and invited proposals from interested companies.

We have the largest [coverage of] solar home systems in the world, [amounting to] over 6 million homes. Multiply this [by] five [members] in each home, and you have 30 million people who have access to renewable energy via solar home systems.

These are stand-alone solar home systems, small solar panels for individual households, not connected to a national grid. So they have their limitations, and I think we have reached as far as we can go through this route.

We are exploring the possibilities of connecting our national grid to national grids of other South Asian countries like India, Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal. … Nepal and Bhutan have great potential in developing hydropower projects that would produce renewable energy in enormous quantity that can be imported to Bangladesh by connecting our national grids with the national grids of India, Nepal and Bhutan.

VOA: In an interview with Voice of America, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr. M.A. Momen said that in his recent meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mr. [Mike] Pompeo, the U.S. investment or the U.S.-Bangladesh partnership in exploration [of hydrocarbon reserves in offshore blocks] did come up, so where are we on that?

Chowdhury: U.S. companies have shown interest in investing in new explorations. Mobil came to us and showed their interest in both upstream and downstream hydrocarbon industry. We will invite them to come and discuss with us the possibility of exploration of deep sea [hydrocarbon reserves].

VOA: Are there any other areas in the energy sector where U.S. investment or U.S.-Bangladesh partnership is possible?

energy industry, bangladesh
FILE – The logo of General Electric is pictured at the 26th World Gas Conference in Paris, France, June 2, 2015. VOA

Chowdhury: Recently, we have signed a memorandum of understanding with General Electric and its local partner to provide over 2,000 megawatts of electricity. And we have signed a contract with Summit Power and GE to build a 583-megawatt power plant. So the U.S. companies are showing a lot of interest. We are hoping that they will bring state-of-the-art technology.

Chowdhury: U.S. companies have shown interest in investing in new explorations. Mobil came to us and showed their interest in both upstream and downstream hydrocarbon industry. We will invite them to come and discuss with us the possibility of exploration of deep sea [hydrocarbon reserves].

ALSO READ: Trump Administration Commits to Make Fossil Fuels Cleaner, Says Energy Secretary

VOA: Are there any other areas in the energy sector where U.S. investment or U.S.-Bangladesh partnership is possible?

Chowdhury: Recently, we have signed a memorandum of understanding with General Electric and its local partner to provide over 2,000 megawatts of electricity. And we have signed a contract with Summit Power and GE to build a 583-megawatt power plant. So the U.S. companies are showing a lot of interest. We are hoping that they will bring state-of-the-art technology. (VOA)