In Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League party has won the elections with a 96 percent majority in the 300-member national parliament. While some say that kind of winning happen only in a country like North Korea; Bangladesh’ chief election commissioner says ‘we are satisfied, we are not ashamed’. Before the polls, media had predicted Hasina would win in a rigged election, her son and the sure-shot heir to the dynasty SajeebWazed said, “it is an honor to be called an autocrat by the west”. A Harvard grad of public policy who also lived mostly in the west; hisopinion matters more than others.

Following the election night, Parul Begum, mother of four children was raped and violently beaten for voting the opposition. She begged the ruling party thugs not ravage her as ‘it would put permanent stigma on her children’. Journalist of Dhaka Tribune, a national daily, was arrested for reporting ‘false information about election’. Surprisingly, just before the election, his publisher passionately argued in favor of authoritarianism in a New York Times opinion. Minority Hindus were attacked, more than hundred houses belong to them were demolished. However, this picturesque of post-election repercussion is not surprising. Thousands of opposition leaders and activists were arrested before the election while Sheikh Hasina’s prime contender Khaleda Zia is languished in jail over arbitrary graft charges. At least 47 of the 300 opposition candidates, one in six, were attacked and injured by the ruling party members and police. Disturbing videos of threatening the opposition supporters like ‘if you come to vote, we will bury you like ants’ were ubiquitous in social media. Opposition candidates were barred from organizing electoral rallies and campaign to pitch their causes to the voters. Prominent journalist David Bergman broke stories of massive vote rigging plans. On the election day, stuffed ballots were taken to the centers before the poll starting, teens were seen stuffing ballots, opposition voters and candidates were barred at the polling stations, violence left at least 17 dead. The establishment of wholesale fear reflected on the first day of January 2019 when concern citizens asked people to join a protest demanding justice for the rape victim, only 15-20 people showed up in front of the national press club in Dhaka.

The third-timere-election of Sheikh Hasina (her second re-election in 2014 was boycotted by the opposition for absence of a non-partisan government to oversee the election) is signaling the probable shift in south Asian region. The winning party was welcome by Iran, India, Russia, China and some other nations while the winners of credible elections in past the received barrage of congratulations. Mr. Putin’s congratulations are well understood as Russia is building nuclear power plant in Bangladesh. United States, the UK and the European Union cautiously expressed their hope that at least the country arranged an election yet made strong calls to investigate into the irregularities and violence. The international community made it clear about how they have supported Bangladesh in previous days for its economic uplift. At home, Hasina’s opposition, the National Unity Front, has rejected the election and demanded for fresh polls; the demand Hasina won’t pay any heed.

Sheikh Hasina and her party has been ruling the country for a decade. The kid who was 8 years in 2008; has become the first-time voter this year. This growing generation is seeing there is democratic system in a country and muscle power is defining the course of the country. They have already experienced such scenario from their Road Safety movement and demand for Merit based Jobs. The media have been practicing self-censorship for a long time yet draconian laws like Digital Security acts are put on place to control freedom of speech. Massive corruption, and money laundering kept economy crippled while the solaces are only the 1.5 million expats trickled in money and a challenged apparel sector. The forcefully ousted Chief Justice’s claim that he himself can’t get justice from the court let alone others signifies the shattered judicial system. It is visible in Bangladesh now that Sheikh Hasina is the source of all power in Bangladesh like Mr. Kim in North Korea. Dissidents disappear, opposition activists and leaders tortured by gestapo like law enforcers and everything is watched by ‘Big-Sister’. There has been a prediction for a while that brute dictatorship will be entrenched if Bangladesh fail to arrange a credible election. Now the question is how the country, already put in red alert zone in fragile states index, will overcome this overwhelming challenge.

M MushfiqulFazal (Ansarey)
Bangladeshi journalist based in Washington DC
General Secretary, Right to Freedom

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