On December 30, Bangladesh held its 11th parliamentary election in which close to 100 million Bangladeshis voted at 40,000 polling stations across the country.
But even before polling began, many observers concluded that the vote, conducted under the country’s increasingly authoritarian conditions, would be a managed affair. It was clear to many that the ruling Awami League party would tilt the election process in its favour utilising coercive mechanisms.
News coverage, reports from human rights organisations, confidential party documents leaked by journalists, and unusually candid public pronouncements by ruling party members, some of which went viral on social media ahead of the polls, revealed the government’s elaborate plans for voter suppression, aggressive policing, systemic arrests and detentions of opposition activists – all with the singular objective of managing the election in the ruling party’s favour.
Given that no credible independent political polling exists in Bangladesh, analysts were left with reviews of spontaneous public engagements in political processions, social media sentiment analysis and online polling as the only tangible measures for gauging popular support towards any political party. However unscientific, they showed that there was underpinning momentum towards voting for the country’s major opposition alliance during this election cycle.
Even the most partisan of estimates coming from government-affiliated pollsters, some prepared by nebulous characters and organisations, allotted at least 49 parliamentary seats for the opposition out of the 298 contested. However, as the results came in, it seemed as though the government’s elaborate machinery ended up over-managing the election and lost its grip on its own script along the way.
The Awami League party and its alliance ended up bagging 288 seats, leaving just seven seats for the Jatiya Oikko Front, the major opposition alliance led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). There were constituencies where the ruling party won 99.9 percent of the votes, and hardly any ruling party candidate lost the contests, according to unofficial results.