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Landslide victory for Bangladesh ruler in violence-hit polls
BANGLADESHI Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's party won almost 90 per cent 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.
Sheikh 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 Sheikh Hasina's fourth as prime minister since 1996.
The opposition alliance, led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) that called the polls a "farcical election", won seven seats.
As many as 18 people were killed in poll-related violence.
The results put Sheikh Hasina, 71, in position to extend her rule as the longest-serving premier since the nation became independent in 1971.
More than 8,000 activists and leaders from the opposition alliance have been arrested since voting was announced in November, according to the rival BNP.
BNP leader and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia is now in jail, and her son was recently sentenced in absentia to life in prison.
Sheikh Hasina, who has overseen a harsh security crackdown after terrorist attacks, pledged to accelerate annual economic growth to 10 per cent 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.
"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. Sheikh Hasina's "re-election will cement her increasingly authoritarian rule, further marginalising legitimate political opposition and narrowing the possible outlets for peaceful dissent."
Under Sheikh Hasina the economy has boomed. Garment exporters, which account for 13 per cent 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 US$50 billion by 2021 from US$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 criticised by the administration of US President Donald Trump for failing to allow US-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 organisations 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 on Sunday due to the death of one candidate. Voting was also suspended in one contested seat following violence.The other 50 seats are reserved for women distributed by proportional representation. BLOOMBERG