Security heightened as Bangladesh votes today

As polls closed Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of the ruling Awami League was the overwhelming favourite to win a third term.

Asked to respond, Helal Uddin Ahmad, the secretary of the election commission, told BenarNews, "We have asked the police and other law enforcers to investigate all the allegations of violence and let us know".

Mr Hossain claimed about 100 candidates from the opposition had withdrawn from their races during the day, with his alliance to decide on its next steps at a meeting on Monday.

"We reject the results and demand a new election under a neutral government", Kamal Hossain, an octogenarian global jurist who heads the opposition alliance, told a news conference.

A joint statement by 25 human rights organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Amnesty International, had called for Alam's "immediate and unconditional release" and slammed the allegations against him as "a blatant violation of his right to freedom of expression".

On Friday, police in northeastern Sylhet said BNP followers had killed an Awami activist, bringing to three the number of ruling party supporters killed since November 8, AFP reported.

An auxiliary police member was also killed by armed opposition activists, according to officials. Guterres "calls on all stakeholders to ensure an environment free of violence, intimidation and coercion before, during and after the elections, so as to enable a peaceful, credible and inclusive poll", said a spokesman.

18-year-old BNP activist Sadek killed in clashes with Awami League activists over attempt to take control of voting centre at Chittagong's Patia.

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

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.

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

"I believe that people will cast their votes in favor of Awami League to continue the pace of development", Hasina told reporters in Dhaka.

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.

In Zia's absence, opposition parties formed a coalition led by Hossain, an 82-year-old Oxford-educated lawyer and former member of Hasina's Awami League party.

While the BNP boycotted the 2014 election, it has said that it will participate this year in what will be the country's 11th National Parliamentary Election. The Awami League's landslide victory was met with violence that left at least 22 people dead. The polls are being held at 40,183 polling stations.

"The eight-hour long voting has ended as per schedule, preparedness are underway to start the counting", an Election Commission (EC) spokesman said. Plastic bins full of paper ballots were dumped onto a sheet on the floor, where 10 people sat in a circle to organize and count the votes. "As the election draws near, independent civil society organizations and media have experienced restrictions on their operations".

Authorities have deployed around 600,000 police, army and other security forces ahead of Sunday's vote, a senior official said, following a deadly campaign marred by clashes. Bangladesh's telecommunications regulator shut down mobile internet services nationwide to prevent possible protests from being organised.

The normally traffic-clogged streets of the capital were largely empty because of a ban on vehicles for everyone except election observers and journalists.

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.

She needs 151 seats in the first-past-the-post system to control the 300-seat parliament but experts say a victory would be sullied by accusations that she hamstrung her opponents' campaign and scared people into voting for her.

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  • Sonia Alvarado