By Zeba Siddiqui, Ruma Paul and Krishna N. Das
DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Monday rejected opposition complaints of vote rigging and said people had gone to the polls enthusiastically in a largely peacefully general election that her ruling alliance swept with a landslide.
Hasina won a third straight term in Sunday’s election, with alliance led by her Awami League winning 287 of the 298 seats for which results had been declared, the Election Commission said.
But the opposition rejected the result and called for a fresh vote, complaining of what it said was widespread rigging.
Hasina dismissed complaints of cheating and the chief election commissioner rejected the opposition demand for a re-run of the vote. He said voting had been held in a peaceful manner.
At least 17 people were killed during the vote, police said, after a violent campaign in which the opposition alleged the government denied it a level playing field.
The Election Commission said earlier it was investigating allegations of vote rigging from “across the country”, and Hasina told reporters the commission had every right to do so.
Hasina’s win follows a decade in power in which she has been credited with improving the economy and promoting development, while being accused of rights abuses, a crackdown on media and suppressing dissent.
The government rejects those accusations.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which had boycotted the last general election in 2014 saying it would not be fair, won just six seats in the 300-seat assembly this time.
BNP leader Khaleda Zia – Hasina’s arch rival and a former prime minister – was jailed in February on corruption charges she says were politically motivated. This was the first election in which the BNP campaigned without her.
Hasina told reporters the opposition had done badly in the election as it lacked leadership. She also said she was surprised the opposition had not campaigned more actively.
The rivalry between the two women – both related to former leaders – has largely defined Bangladeshi politics for decades.
Raising minimum wages for workers in Bangladesh’s robust garments industry, the world’s second-biggest after China’s, could be one of Hasina’s first tasks, party leaders have said.
Opposition leader Kamal Hossain earlier said their alliance, the National Unity Front, led by the BNP, had called on the Election Commission to order a fresh vote under a neutral administration “as soon as possible”, saying the vote was flawed.
“We’ve had bad elections in the past but I must say that it is unprecedented how bad this particular election was,” 82-year-old Hossain told Reuters late on Sunday.
Candidates reported witnessing ballot-stuffing and vote-rigging by ruling party activists, who also barred opposition polling agents from voting centres, Hossain said.
“The minimum requirements of free and fair election are absent,” he said.
(Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui, Ruma Paul and Krishna N. Das; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel)