Updated at 5:36 p.m. ET on 2019-01-03
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will start forming her new cabinet next week, officials announced Thursday, as members of Bangladesh’s newly elected parliament were sworn in despite a boycott by opposition MPs over alleged widespread voting irregularities in Sunday’s polls.
After taking the oath of parliament with more than 280 MPs – all from the ruling Awami League or its allied parties – Hasina was elected parliament leader, the first step before she can return to office for a record fourth time as PM after the Grand Alliance coalition won the Dec. 30 general election.
“If everything goes fine, the next cabinet will be sworn in at 3:30 p.m. Monday,” Joynal Abedin, the press secretary of President Abdul Hamid, told BenarNews on Thursday. “Our preparations have been on.”
Hamid, who holds a largely ceremonial post, called on Hasina to form a new government after the Awami League leader visited him at the Bangabhaban, the president’s official residence.
On Dec. 31, the Election Commission declared that Hasina’s ruling coalition had won the 11th general election in a landslide, paving the way for her government to stay in power for up to another five years and giving her a third consecutive term as prime minister.
But the ruling party’s victory has been clouded by opposition claims that the election was “farcical,” with reports of intimidation taking place through pre-election and polling day violence.
The opposition National Unity Front (NUF) has rejected the election results and called for a balloting re-run.
On Thursday, seven elected NUF members declined to take their oaths, but a senior parliamentary official warned that new elections would take place in their constituencies if the MPs weren’t sworn into office after 90 days.
“[S]even MPs belonging to the National Unity Front did not take the oath,” Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, who administered the oath to the new class of MPs from the ruling coalition, told BenarNews.
Before the oath-taking, members of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which spearheads the newly formed NUF alliance, had an urgent meeting at its party offices in Dhaka.
“We are not taking the oath. I’d like to make it clear: We have rejected the results,” Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, the secretary-general of BNP who chaired the meeting, told reporters.
On Thursday afternoon, NUF leaders met elections chief K.M. Nurul Huda at the Election Commission office, where they handed him a letter demanding that fresh elections be held.
The election commission has not commented on the letter.
Huda, however, had earlier rejected calls for new balloting after declaring that the Grand Alliance headed by the Awami League had taken 288 out of 299 seats that were up for election in the first national vote contested in a decade.
On Wednesday, the European Union and United States criticized the election-day violence, with the U.S. State Department saying this had made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies and campaign freely.
“We are also concerned that election-day irregularities prevented some people from voting, which undermined faith in the electoral process,” Robert Palladino, a state department deputy spokesman, said in a statement.
Police had said at least 16 people were killed in political-related violence nationwide on Saturday and Sunday.
Also on Wednesday, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for an independent probe into alleged vote-rigging and poll-related violence.
“The pre-election period was characterized by violence and intimidation against the opposition, attacks on opposition campaign events, and the misuse of laws to limit free speech,” Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director, said in a statement issued by HRW.
“Reports of ballot stuffing, intimidation of voters, and ruling party control of voting locations on election day mean that an independent and impartial commission should be formed to determine the extent of the violations,” he added.
Correction: An earlier version misstated that Human Rights Watch issued its statement on Thursday.