December 30, 2018 / 7:48 PM / 18 days ago

Hasina set for landslide victory in Bangladesh as opposition calls for fresh election

* Latest results show ruling party has 241 seats

* Election Commission investigating rigging complaints

* Police say 17 killed in clashes across country on Sunday

*

By Zeba Siddiqui and Ruma Paul

DHAKA, Dec 31 (Reuters) - Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s ruling party was on course for a landslide victory on Monday after an election tainted by violence and widespread allegations of rigging, with the opposition demanding a fresh vote.

Victory would give Hasina a third straight term in office.

As the final votes were counted early on Monday, Hasina’s Awami League-led ruling coalition had won 241 seats in the 300-member parliament, results on local TV channels showed. The main opposition National Unity Front Alliance, led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), had secured just seven seats.

The final results of Sunday’s election were due to be announced later on Monday.

A win for Hasina would consolidate her decade-long rule over Bangladesh, where she is credited with improving the economy and promoting development, but has also been accused of rampant human rights abuses, a crackdown on the media and suppressing dissent – charges she denies.

Opposition leader Kamal Hossain said the alliance had asked the Election Commission to order a fresh vote under a neutral administration “as soon as possible”, alleging Sunday’s poll was flawed.

At least 17 were people were killed as the vote took place on Sunday, police said, after a violent campaign season in which the opposition alleged Hasina’s government never granted it a level playing field.

“The whole election was completely manipulated. It should be cancelled,” 82-year-old Hossain said in an interview at his residence in the capital Dhaka late on Sunday. Candidates of the alliance reported witnessing ballot-stuffing and vote rigging by ruling party activists, who also barred opposition polling agents from voting centres, Hossain said.

“We’ve had bad elections in the past, but I must say that it is unprecedented how bad this particular election was. The minimum requirements of free and fair election are absent.”

The Election Commission said it had received allegations of vote rigging from “across the country” which it was investigating, but a spokesman at the agency declined to say if those investigations would affect the election result.

Awami League’s Joint Secretary Jahangir Kabir Nanak said the opposition had been “rejected by the people of Bangladesh” and that its refusal to accept voting results was “not unusual.”

“It is their old habit,” he said referring to the BNP, which has alternated in power with the Awami League for most of the last three decades. “We thought they would welcome this election for a change. But they could not change their habit,” Nanak.

Scores of opposition workers were arrested in the months before the election on charges that the opposition said were “fictitious,” and many said they were attacked by ruling party activists, crippling their ability to campaign.

Hasina’s government has denied the accusations and her party claims many of its own workers were injured in attacks by the opposition. Seven ruling party workers and five BNP workers were killed and 20 wounded on election day, police said.

“The election is a cruel mockery with the nation. This type of election is harmful to the nation,” BNP Secretary-General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said.

Reuters reporters across the country witnessed sparse attendance at polling booths, and some voters alleged ruling party workers had blocked them from entering booths saying their ballots had already been cast. Campaign posters of the ruling party dominated streets in many parts of Dhaka.

This was the first election the BNP campaigned without its leader Khaleda Zia – Hasina’s arch rival. The two women have alternated in power for most of the last three decades, but Khaleda has been in jail since February on corruption charges, which she says are politically motivated.

Hossain said he would meet with alliance members on Monday to decide the next step. BNP’s demand earlier this year for polls to be held under a neutral government was rejected by Hasina, who promised a “free and fair election”. (Reporting by Ruma Paul and Zeba Siddiqui in Dhaka; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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