Landslide victory for ruling Awami League
Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister of Bangladesh, has secured her fourth consecutive term in office after her ruling Awami League party won a landslide victory in the general elections held on Sunday. According to the official results, the Awami League and its allies won 288 out of 300 parliamentary seats, while the main opposition alliance, the National Unity Front (NUF), led by former prime minister Khaleda Zia, won only seven seats.
The election was marred by allegations of vote rigging, violence, and intimidation by the ruling party and its supporters. The NUF rejected the results and demanded a fresh election under a neutral caretaker government. The NUF also claimed that at least 17 of its candidates and activists were killed and hundreds were injured in clashes with the security forces and the ruling party loyalists .
The international community, including the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, and the Commonwealth, expressed concern over the credibility and transparency of the election and urged the authorities to investigate the reports of irregularities and violence .
Sheikh Hasina: A veteran leader with a mixed legacy
Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of Bangladesh, is one of the longest-serving and most influential leaders in South Asia. She has been the prime minister of Bangladesh since 2009, and also served in the same position from 1996 to 2001. She has led the Awami League, the country’s oldest and largest political party, since 1981 .
Sheikh Hasina is widely credited for transforming Bangladesh into a lower-middle income country with impressive achievements in economic growth, poverty reduction, social development, and women empowerment. Under her leadership, Bangladesh has maintained an average annual GDP growth rate of over 6 percent for the last decade, and has reduced the poverty rate from 40 percent in 2005 to 24 percent in 2016. Bangladesh has also made remarkable progress in education, health, sanitation, and gender equality, and has met several Millennium Development Goals ahead of schedule .
However, Sheikh Hasina has also faced criticism for her authoritarian and corrupt governance style, and for undermining the democracy, human rights, and rule of law in Bangladesh. She has been accused of cracking down on the opposition, the media, the civil society, and the dissenting voices, and of manipulating the judiciary, the election commission, and the security agencies to her advantage. She has also been implicated in several scandals involving graft, money laundering, and abuse of power .
Bangladesh: A polarized and volatile nation
Bangladesh, a nation of over 160 million people, is one of the most densely populated and ethnically homogeneous countries in the world. It gained its independence from Pakistan in 1971 after a bloody war of liberation, in which Sheikh Mujibur Rahman played a pivotal role. Since then, Bangladesh has experienced several coups, assassinations, military regimes, and political unrests, and has alternated between the rule of the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the two major parties that represent the secular and the nationalist-Islamist ideologies respectively .
The political rivalry between Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, the leaders of the Awami League and the BNP, has dominated the political scene of Bangladesh for the last three decades. The two women, known as the Battling Begums, have been locked in a bitter and personal feud that has polarized the nation and fueled violence and instability. Both leaders have faced charges of corruption, nepotism, and human rights violations, and have spent time in jail or exile .
The latest election was seen as a do-or-die battle between the two camps, as the winner would have the power to amend the constitution and shape the future of the country. However, the election was largely one-sided, as Khaleda Zia was barred from running due to her conviction in a corruption case, and many of her allies and supporters were either arrested, harassed, or disqualified by the authorities. The NUF, a new coalition of opposition parties formed in October 2018, failed to pose a serious challenge to the ruling party, and was largely ignored or marginalized by the state-controlled media and the election commission .
Challenges and opportunities ahead
Sheikh Hasina, who is set to begin her third consecutive and fourth overall term as the prime minister, faces a number of challenges and opportunities in her new tenure. She has to deal with the legitimacy crisis and the public discontent arising from the controversial election, and to restore the confidence and the cooperation of the opposition, the civil society, and the international community. She has to address the governance issues and the corruption allegations that have tarnished her image and eroded her support base. She has to tackle the security threats and the extremism challenges posed by the radical Islamist groups and the Rohingya refugees. She has to balance the geopolitical interests and the economic ties of the regional and global powers, especially India, China, and the US .
Sheikh Hasina also has the opportunity to capitalize on the economic momentum and the social progress that Bangladesh has achieved under her leadership, and to consolidate the democratic institutions and the secular values that she has championed. She has the chance to pursue the Vision 2021 and the Vision 2041 plans that aim to make Bangladesh a middle-income and a developed country respectively. She has the potential to leverage the youth bulge and the female empowerment that have emerged as the key drivers of change and development in Bangladesh .
Sheikh Hasina, who is 71 years old and has been in power for a decade, has also to prepare for the succession and the transition of her party and her country, and to groom the next generation of leaders who can carry forward her legacy and vision.