Sheikh Hasina Wajed, Bangladesh’s prime minister. (Photographer: David Greedy/Bloomberg News)

Landslide Victory for Bangladesh Ruler in Violence-Hit Polls

(Bloomberg) -- Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s party won almost 90 percent of the seats to give the premier an unprecedented fourth term in a vote marked by tight security, violence and a crackdown on the opposition.

Landslide Victory for Bangladesh Ruler in Violence-Hit Polls

Hasina’s Awami League and its close allies won 267 of the 299 seats up for a vote, Election Commission Secretary Helal Uddin Ahmed told reporters in Dhaka. The victory allows the ruling party to form a government for a third-straight term, and Hasina’s fourth as prime minister since 1996. The opposition alliance, led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party that called the polls a “farcical election,” won seven seats. As many as 18 people were killed in poll-related violence.

The results put Hasina, 71, in position to extend her rule as the longest-serving premier since the nation became independent in 1971. While the economy surged under Hasina’s rule, opposition parties alleged the government suppressed their voice. More than 8,000 activists and leaders from the opposition alliance have been arrested since voting was announced in November, according to rival BNP. The party’s leader and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia is now in jail, and her son was recently sentenced in absentia to life in prison.

“While many foreign investors may welcome political continuity, they should beware the stresses building up in the system over time,” said Sasha Riser-Kositsky, a senior analyst at Eurasia Group in New York. Hasina’s “reelection will cement her increasingly authoritarian rule, further marginalizing legitimate political opposition and narrowing the possible outlets for peaceful dissent.”

Landslide Victory for Bangladesh Ruler in Violence-Hit Polls

Hasina, who has overseen a harsh security crackdown after terrorist attacks, pledged to accelerate annual economic growth to 10 percent in the next five years and add 12.8 million jobs. The message has helped her woo voters in a contested campaign after the opposition decided not to repeat its previous election boycott. About 80 percent of the 104 million electorate turned up to vote, according to the Election Commission.

“As I got another five years to work for the nation, I will now finish my unfinished tasks,” Hasina said in comments televised on state-run BTV World. She didn’t elaborate on her plans.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called and congratulated Hasina on her victory, while Chinese Ambassador in Dhaka Zhang Zuo conveyed Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang’s message to her.

Under Hasina the economy has boomed. Garment exporters, which account for 13 percent of gross domestic product and sell to companies including Marks & Spencer Group Plc and Calvin Klein Inc., have benefited from the security. The apparel industry expects a stable political environment to help take annual overseas sales to $50 billion by 2021 from $30 billion.

“Post-elections, Bangladesh enters an important phase where the government will look to consolidate its position as one of the economically fastest growing countries in South Asia,” said Hemant Shivakumar, senior analyst for India and South Asia at Control Risks in New Delhi. Any political instability will delay “implementation of foreign-backed projects in sectors such as energy, infrastructure and telecom and restrict the Hasina government from addressing pressing issues such as creating jobs for the youth population.”

Still, the government has been criticized by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump for failing to allow U.S.-sponsored international election monitors into the country, with the State Department issuing a statement on Dec. 21 urging the poll to be conducted free of “harassment, intimidation, or violence.”

In response, Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said 175 election observers had been accredited, along with 118 local organizations and 25,920 observers who’ve been approved to monitor the polls.

Bangladesh’s parliament has a single 350-seat chamber with 300 elected representatives. Polls for 299 seats were held Sunday but voting was suspended in one following violence.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.