Bangladesh began voting on Sunday in an election guaranteed to give a fifth term in office to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The main opposition parties are boycotting the poll and many of their leaders are jailed. Rallies are carried out to protest against the ‘farcical elections’
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the leading opposition group, is leading a weekend general strike urging the public not to participate in what it calls a “sham” election.
Hasina’s Awami League faces almost no effective rivals in the seats it is contesting. However, it has avoided fielding candidates in a few seats to avoid the legislature being labelled a one-party institution.
To create an election phase, the Awami League high command allowed party members to contest the polls as independents and as many as 382 AL independents are running for 221 seats out of 300.
India and China have stakes in Bangladesh’s election as Dhaka’s support is crucial for the regional powers. Hasina has presided over exceptional economic growth with Bangladesh becoming one of the world’s largest garment exporters.
Its per capita income has tripled in the last decade and the World Bank estimates that more than 25 million people have been lifted out of poverty in the last 20 years.
Hasina’s government has been accused of rampant human rights abuses and a ruthless opposition crackdown.
Several instances of violence were reported even before the polling began on Sunday.