As Campaigning Ends, Bangladesh Polls Chief Promises Free and Fair Election

At least 2,623 opposition and 539 ruling party members, 28 police personnel and 28 journalists were injured in the incidents, the Human Rights Support Society (HRSS) said.

Mahbub Talukdar, one of the five election commissioners who stirred controversy last week by saying there was no level-playing field for the parties, told Reuters he did not see any opposition polling agents near the Dhaka booth where he voted, suggesting they had been kept away.

"Unless someone is wanted under certain case, police must not arrest anyone.maintain utmost neutrality in discharging your duties", he said.

The election campaign itself was marred by the arrests and jailing of what the opposition says are thousands of Hasina opponents, including six candidates for parliament. Amid a flurry of late campaign appearances on Wednesday, Hasina said the "BNP-Jamaat alliance carried out bomb attacks in 88 constituencies".

While Hasina is seeking re- election for a fourth term as the prime minister, her chief rival, ex-premier and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chief Khalida Zia, who is reportedly partially paralysed, faces an uncertain future in a Dhaka jail.

The opposition has rejected the results of the parliamentary polls, but local television channels have called the election in favour of the incumbent prime minister, Sheikh Hasina.

In Zia's absence, the opposition is led by Kamal Hossain, an 82-year-old Oxford-educated lawyer and former member of Hasina's Awami League party.

Bangladesh Army chief General Aziz Ahmed called on voters to go to the polling stations without fear. Polling workers appointed by candidates showed Election Commission officials empty ballot boxes before the first paper ballot was cast. "Especially women voters are being forced to vote for the boat", Mr Alal said, referring to the Awami League symbol.

The same day, the new US ambassador to Bangladesh said he had met with the chief election commissioner and the rest of the commission because the United States was concerned "by the high level of campaign violence over the last two weeks".

Hasina said the issue of her arch-rival Zia is a matter of court.

40-year-old Modasser Ali, an Awami League activist, is beaten dead in violence at Pachandar Union at Rajshahi.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman hugs daughter Sheikh Hasina in 1970
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman hugs daughter Sheikh Hasina in 1970

This election, some 104 million people are eligible to vote, including many young, first-time voters.

While rights groups have sounded the alarms about the erosion of Bangladesh's democracy, Hasina has promoted a different narrative, highlighting an ambitious economic agenda that has propelled Bangladesh past larger neighbours Pakistan and India by some development measures. "I trust my people and I know that they will choose us so that they can get a better life in future", she said after casting her vote.

"People will cast their vote for Awami League to ensure the win of pro-Liberation forces", Hasina said. The counting of the votes began from 5 PM onwards.

Later BNP's Alamgir said "Now we've no expectation over the election". "Whoever is doing development, he should be there", he said.

Hasina has expressed great confidence in the outcome, already inviting foreign journalists and election observers to her official residence on Monday, by which time the results are expected to be known.

The head of Bangladesh's Election Commission insisted Friday that the December 30 general election would be free and fair as the campaign deadline for Sunday's vote expired amid reports of ongoing political violence on all sides.

Mobile internet was blocked and the streets of the capital, Dhaka were largely deserted as many had left to vote in their home towns.

When a group of daily wage labourers gathered in Dhaka this week, supporters of both political groups said no other prime minister had helped build more roads and culverts than Hasina.

"The ruling party people were standing outside the polling booth".

"We are not getting their signal", said S.M Ali Chanchal, owner of cable operator UCS. The Centre for Policy Dialogue, a thinktank, has argued corruption during Hasina's term has cost the country more than $2.5bn in lost revenues.


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