At least seven people were killed in the Bangladesh electoral turmoil when voters elected representatives of the village councils on Thursday in an election expected to further cement the ruling party’s power amid fears over the country’s state of democracy.
The largest opposition party boycotted the vote, arguing that a distorted political atmosphere impedes fair participation. Widespread allegations of misconduct have been made during the last two national elections, and political violence has darkened past voices in Bangladesh, especially in village councils.
By the end of Thursday, it was unclear how many members of the ruling Awami League party had been elected head of the village councils.
The groups used firearms and spears to prevent rival supporters from reaching the voting booths in a village in the Narsingdi district of central Bangladesh, killing three people, said Satyajt Kumar Ghosh, a senior police officer. According to him, at least 20 more people were injured as a result of the chaos.
Another man was killed in a clash of warring factions in the South Cox’s Bazar area, according to the newspaper Prothom Alo. Six more people were injured in the area, the newspaper reported.
Two people were killed in the eastern district of Cumilla, and another person was killed in the southeastern district of Chattogram in the violence that resulted in many injuries, according to the Daily Star.
Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda warned against electoral violence ahead of Thursday’s vote and said security measures were being taken to respond to any incidents.
Ahead of this month’s vote, at least nine people were killed and hundreds were injured in campaign violence. According to the human rights group Ain-o-Salish Kendra, 85 people have been killed and more than 6,000 injured since January as a result of election-related violence in Bangladesh.
In Thursday’s election, more than 15 million eligible voters elected representatives to 835 councils after court hearings were suspended in some places due to irregularities or violence.
A total of 4,571 councils, known as trade union parishads, in charge of community development and public welfare, are being contested in stages. In the first phase, elections were held in June for 204 councils, in which 148 candidates from the ruling party won, while the rest were occupied by independents.
Analysts say Thursday’s election is an opportunity for the ruling Awami League party of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to strengthen its position ahead of the next general election, slated for 2023. Her party won a landslide victory in the last two general elections in 2014 and 2018, which were marred by allegations of vote tampering and manipulation.
From 1991, when Bangladesh returned to a democratic system, until the 2008 elections, Hasina and her main rival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia of Bangladesh’s main opposition Nationalist Party, have alternately ruled the country.
Hasina’s overwhelming victory in 2008 was the last nationwide election to be declared free and fair, and Zia’s party has boycotted several elections since then.