The Bangladesh election: Why almost everyone knows what the result will be

Nazmul Ahasan
The Bangladesh election: Why almost everyone knows what the result will be A man finishes hanging up a portrait depicting Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, while another man carries portraits of her son, Sajeeb Wazed, at a park in Dhaka, Dec. 18, 2019.
Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters

Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League party is poised to clinch a fourth consecutive term in national polls set for Jan. 7, 2024.

As many as 2,260 candidates from 29 parties, including hundreds of independents, will officially be vying for votes in which Bangladeshis will elect representatives for 300 seats in the country’s legislature, the Jatiya Sangsad.

But none of these candidates will be from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the only one that could have posed a serious challenge to the Awami League and its 76-year-old leader, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The BNP believes that unless the Hasina government steps down and an interim administration – or what is called a neutral caretaker government – is in place for the duration of the election, next month’s voting exercise will favor the ruling party.

Because Hasina refused to step down, the BNP on Nov. 30 formally announced it was boycotting the general election.

That’s mainly why we already know the outcome of the vote. 

Here are other 10 reasons for why the outcome of the election is a foregone conclusion:

1. After eight years in the opposition, the Awami League and Hasina returned to power in 2009, benefitting from an election overseen by a caretaker government of the very kind it is refusing to step down and make way for.

2. Within two years of winning that election, the Awami League abolished the caretaker government system from the constitution, a move it made based on a partial reading of a Supreme Court ruling on the caretaker system provision.

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A woman displays her inked thumb after casting her vote for the 2018 general election in Dhaka, Dec. 30, 2018. [Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters]

3. The following two elections, therefore, were held under a Hasina administration, and highly controversial. The BNP boycotted the 2014 election flat out, which then allowed the Awami League to waltz back into government.

4. However, the BNP decided to participate in the next election in 2018, even though it would be held under Hasina. Unsurprisingly for many observers, the Awami League-led ruling coalition won a thumping victory, winning 95% of the parliamentary seats – albeit amid extensive allegations, including by the U.S., of voter intimidation and electoral fraud.

Policemen watch as protesters from the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party clash with law enforcement in Shantinagar, Dhaka, Oct. 28, 2023. [Mehedi Rana/BenarNews]

    5. The three consecutive terms – or 15 years in government for the Awami League – allowed the party and PM Hasina to cement themselves in power, many human rights groups say, at the cost of liberal democratic principles.

    6. During Hasina’s tenure, international groups Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reported thousands of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances amid other gross human rights violations.

    7. The opposition BNP staged sometimes massive protest rallies, starting late last year, to demand the government step aside for a neutral caretaker government before the 2024 election. The protests escalated into nationwide strikes and transportation blockades, and sometimes deadly violence.

    8. The government responded with mass arrests, arresting and jailing more than 20,000 opposition members since Oct. 28 alone, according to the local media and BNP. Authorities resorted to arresting family members of opposition activists as well. The pressure was high. The BNP formally announced it was boycotting the election on Nov. 30.

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    Police officials guard outside the headquarters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party in Dhaka, Oct. 28, Nov. 23, 2023. [Mehedi Rana/BenarNews]

      9. The poll machinery rumbled along and Bangladesh’s Election Commission announced on Dec. 15 that of the 2,260 candidates running for elections, more than 700 had declared themselves to be independents. A majority of these so-called independents are Awami League members running against their party’s formal candidates, observers say, to present a facade of competition.

      10. And just to make absolutely sure the election is held peacefully, the Election Commission on Dec. 12 ordered a ban on all public gatherings and assemblies unrelated to election campaigning, from Dec. 18 until election day Jan. 7. Many critics called the move unconstitutional and aimed at preventing BNP protests.

      Election ‘a staged drama’

      Bangladeshis are well aware of the Awami League’s machinations.

      BenarNews approached 34 voters in Bangladesh to offer their thoughts on the upcoming election, and fewer than half agreed to talk on the record.

      Mosleh Uddin Bijay, a student at Dhaka State College, recalled being told that general elections used to be like a festival occasion.

      “This can never be called an election – it’s a selection. This will merely rubber-stamp the renewal of the government’s tenure,” he told BenarNews.

      “It’s just a staged drama.”

      Voters queue at a voting center during the general election in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dec. 30, 2018. [Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters]

      For 55-year-old Dhaka security worker Nantu Hawladar Rana, the upcoming election is almost a make-believe event that is going to take place, he said.

      “Now, the Awami League’s official nominees are competing against the Awami League’s independent candidates,” he told BenarNews, expressing astonishment.

      “Is this how it’s supposed to be? I am a supporter of the Awami League party – but an election should consist of all parties.”

      Like Rana, other Awami league supporters, too, told BenarNews that in the absence of real competition, their votes wouldn’t matter.

      “My family and I have traditionally voted for the boat [the electoral symbol of the Awami League]. But it seems the Awami League doesn’t even need our voters anymore,” said Alak Kumar Sarkar, an employee at a private company.

      “The 2014 and 2018 elections occurred the way they wanted. Now, the Awami League has a proven template of how to stay in power. Why should they now involve the opposition in the election process and make it difficult?”

      Kamran Reza Chowdhury and Oyon Aman contributed to this story from Dhaka, Bangladesh.


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