Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazid is all set to win a fourth straight term and the fifth overall for her Awami League-led alliance on the back of an overall strong economic performance and high-handed action against the opposition as the country goes to poll on Sunday.
Although Bangladesh had to go for an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout last year, the overall sentiment about Prime Minister Hasina’s performance on the economic front remains positive as she gets the credit of turning around the $416-billion economy and boosting its massive garments industry.
Hasina has also been lauded by the international community for sheltering nearly a million Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in neighbouring Myanmar.
However, in recent months Bangladesh’s economy — once among the world’s fastest growing — was shaken by violent protests because of high inflation, and an increase in the cost of living, as the country struggles to pay for costly energy imports amid falling dollar reserves and a weakening domestic currency.
The IMF cleared the first review of Bangladesh’s $4.7 billion bailout in December, immediately releasing about $468.3 million. Another $221.5 million was given to the country for its climate change agenda.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of the ailing former prime minister Khaleda Zia is boycotting the poll because Hasina refused to hold the elections under a caretaker government.
The South Asian country, having a population of 170 million people, has 120 million eligible voters – half of them women. The first-time voters are about 15 million.
A total of 1,896 candidates, 5.1 percent of them women, are eyeing for 300 direct parliamentary seats. The remaining 50 seats of the parliament, called Jatiyo Sangshad, are reserved.
Sheikh Hasina has remained under fire by the rights groups, which accuse her government of targeting the opposition leaders and supporters. Hasina’s Awami League condemns the BNP as troublemakers, trying to sabotage the elections.
Authorities say that nearly 750,000 police, paramilitary and police auxiliaries will guard the poll stations on the election day. At the sensitive places, the army, navy and air force personnel have also been deployed.
Rights group say that around 127 foreign observers will track the elections to assess its fairness, while more than 50 foreign journalists are also in the country to cover the polls.
The United States, the biggest buyer of Bangladeshi garments, had warned in May that it would curb visas to Bangladesh citizens, who undermine the democratic election process.
The voting starts at 8 a.m. (0200 GMT) and ends at 4 p.m. (1000 GMT) on Sunday, while the counting starts soon after the end of polling. Initial results are expected by Jan. 8.
Since achieving independence in 1971, 11 general elections have been held in Bangladesh.