|Turmoil-ridden Bangladesh braces for more bloodshed at farcical elections
Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is certain to cement her grip on power at elections boycotted by her rivals and shunned by the West after unprecedented bloodshed.
While Hasina says the Sunday election will allow her to “eliminate militancy,’’ analysts warn it will spark more unrest after the bloodiest year in Bangladesh's short and troubled history.
A poll in the normally pro-government Dhaka Tribune on Friday showed 77 percent of voters were against the election without the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, AFP reports.
The same survey showed the BNP would have won a narrow victory over Hasina's Awami League but the result is not in doubt as most of the seats are uncontested.
“Fight or Farce?'' read the front-page headline in the best-selling Daily Star newspaper, full of pictures of burnt-out buses and victims of petrol bomb attacks.
The turmoil has further dimmed hopes of improving the lives of the 154 million population which make up the world's eighth most populous country, a third of whom are below the poverty line.
In a final election address on Thursday, Hasina vowed to turn Bangladesh into "a middle-income country'' by the turn of the decade and solve its chronic power problems.
But the most impassioned section of her address came when she denounced BNP leader Khaleda Zia who has tried to derail the polls with mass protests.
“She held the people hostage in the name of strikes and blockades,'' Hasina said, blaming Zia supporters for the deaths of civilians and security forces.
The BNP is one of 21 opposition parties refusing to take part after Hasina snubbed calls in October to stand aside and let the contest be organised by a neutral caretaker regime.
As a result, candidates who are either Awami League members or allies are running unchallenged in 153 of the 300 seats.
“It's not an election. It's shameless selection,'' Zia said as she announced a march “to save democracy'' that was meant to have taken place last weekend.
But the protest was stopped in its tracks by a massive police operation and Zia is now under de facto house arrest.
The two women's poisonous relationship, which dates back three decades, has torpedoed all attempts at compromise.
When they did talk on the phone in October, their 37-minute conversation ended up in a slanging match and mutual accusations that they had blood on their hands.
More than 140 people have been killed in election violence since October -- bringing the overall death toll in political unrest to more than 500, according to local rights activists.
Last year was officially the deadliest year for political violence in a country that has experienced nearly 20 coups.