Former prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, pulled out a landslide victory for her Awami League-led alliance winning 262 seats of the 300-member parliament in the first general election in seven years. Sheikh Hasina is the daughter of the leader of the Awami League, Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman, who guided Bangladesh to independence in 1971.
Hasina’s arch-rival and head of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led alliance, Khaleda Zia, is also a begum and a former prime minister. Khaleda, whose Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led four party alliance won just 32 seats, refused to concede defeat terming the elections as ‘stage-managed.” That was a dismal showing compared to the 217 seats the BNP had cornered in 2001.
Street fights were reported between the two groups following declaration of the election results. The margin between 262 and 32 is not so small that it could be contested. Besides, the elections process, overseen by over two lakh political observers and over six lakh law enforcement officials, had passed without any major untoward incidents.
Following the recent trend in South Asia after Nepal, Pakistan and Maldives, installation of a democratically elected government in Bangladesh after two years of emergency rule by the army is a welcome change for India. It is always easier to deal with a democratically elected government than dealing with a dictatorial or a military regime.
Approximately 81 million voters went to the polls on December 29, 2008 to elect 1,555 candidates for the 300 seats in the national assembly. About one-third of these were first time voters. Nearly 85 percent of the voters turned up to cast their votes. The landmark win for Hasina means that the youth of the country are with her. This landslide victory also places a huge responsibility on Hasina to perform in a country torn by corruption and negligence of the political class and lead the country towards development and prosperity.
In her first public appearance after the stunning victory, the 61-year-old Hasina requested Khaleda Zia to concede defeat. Seeking Khaleda’s co-operation in running the country, Sheikh Hasina said: “Let us join our hands forgetting the past bitterness to work together for the country and nation.”
One of the important statements that Sheikh Hasina made soon after being elected is that Bangladesh soil would not be allowed to be used to carry out any terrorist activity. In the wake of heightened terrorist violence in 2008, this is a statement that would be welcomed by one and all in the international community.
Just a few days back, three terrorists were arrested near the site of Sheikh Hasina’s election rally. In fact, she survived a grenade attack on her in August 2004 which left 24 people dead. India has expressed concern over the existence of 112 terror camps in Bangladesh. The government has banned four of the 33 militant outfits that operate out of Bangladesh. As a goodwill measure, Bangladesh has returned four Indian militants operating from its territory for the first time. This is a welcome sign and will go a long way in promoting regional co-operation and trust.