Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took the oath of office Monday for a record fourth term and a third consecutive one, days after a landslide election win marred by violence and fraud allegations.
President Abdul Hamid administered the oath at his official residence at mid-afternoon with officials, dignitaries and diplomats on hand. Forty-six cabinet members also were sworn in, including 31 first-timers.
Hasina, dubbed the “Iron Lady” for her increasingly authoritarian leadership style, will hold several cabinet posts herself, including public administration, defense, and energy and mineral resources.
Badiul Alam Majumder, a civil society leader, called the new cabinet “a surprise,” as most of the experienced leaders have been dropped.
“It has both problems and prospects. Lack of experience of newcomers may be a problem, but they can also bring dynamism in the government with new ideas,” he told BenarNews.
“Mitigating corruption and ensuring democracy and good governance are the major challenges for the new government,” he said.
MPs representing her Awami League party re-elected Hasina as prime minister on Thursday. The Awami-led Grand Alliance won the 11th general election on Dec. 30 by a landslide, securing 288 of 298 parliamentary seats up for grabs.
It was the first contested election in a decade, after opposition parties boycotted 2014 polls because Hasina declined to allow a neutral caretaker government to take the reins during the electoral period.
“They wanted continuity of the government and development, for which they overwhelmingly voted for us,” Hasina said the day after the election.
Awami’s victory was “credible and transparent,” but the opposition lost because “people did not know who the opposition leader was,” she said.
Hasina’s arch-rival, ex-prime minister Khaleda Zia, has been serving a 10-year sentence for corruption, and was barred from contesting the polls.
Leaders of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and National Unity Front alleged the vote had been rigged, demanded new polls and declined to take the seven parliament seats they won.
“The Awami League has snatched the people’s rights to franchise in a premeditated way. We completely reject this election,” said BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir.
Western nations, including the United States and the United Kingdom, cautiously welcomed Hasina's victory but called for a probe into “credible reports” of irregularities, harassment, intimidation and violence in the campaign weeks and on election day.
“We are concerned about violence and alleged human rights violations in Bangladesh before, the during and after the recent elections on 30 December,” Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on Jan. 4.
“[R]eprisals have continued to take place, notably against the political opposition, including physical attacks and ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests, harassment, disappearances and filing of criminal cases,” she said, noting that journalists had also reportedly been intimidated and attacked, hindering “free and public reporting on the elections.”
At least 16 people were killed in political-related violence nationwide on Dec. 29 and Dec. 30, election day, according to police.
Sheikh Hasina, the eldest child of the country’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was born on Sept. 28, 1947. Her political career has spanned more than four decades.
She previously served as prime minister from 1996 to 2001, and has now been the incumbent since 2008, making her the longest serving prime minister in the history of Bangladesh.
Hasina and her younger sister Rehana survived the massacre on Aug. 15, 1975, in which their father and all other members of the family were assassinated, as they were abroad at that time.
She returned home in May 1981 and became a prominent and outspoken advocate of democracy, which resulted in her placement under house arrest throughout the 1980s.
Hasina has been praised for economic, health and educational advances in the South Asian country. Earlier this year, Bangladesh celebrated a U.N. declaration that it was beginning the six-year process of moving from the category of least developed country (LDC) to developing county.
She was also widely praised for sheltering hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled violence in neighboring Myanmar.
But critics say her government has become increasingly autocratic, through laws that stifle freedom of expression, interference in judicial independence, accommodation of growing Islamic fundamentalism and deployment of security forces accused of forced disappearances.
While Hasina basked in the glow of her party’s victory by saying it would prolong the country’s economic stability, Nizam Uddin Ahmed, a political science professor at Chittagong University, suggested that Awami’s landslide victory would create “further political instability.”
“People will definitely question the result. They will not accept the outcome,” he told BenarNews. “When a ruling party candidate gets 250,000 votes while a BNP gets 10,000, [this] is unacceptable to the voters.”
“All political parties contested the election. We had an opportunity to bring long-term political stability. But this chance is lost,” Ahmed added.