Despite threats from a section of the opposition, January 7 came and went, and Bangladesh did have its 12th parliamentary election, in line with the schedule announced by its Election Commission in November. It was never actually in any doubt of course, despite the naysayers, most of them swayed by their own biases. Whether they take any lessons from this or not, their voices will be less heard in the weeks ahead.

More inevitably than perhaps ever before, the Awami League won a comfortable two-thirds majority for a fourth election in a row, with low turnout the order of the day. Voting however was largely peaceful voting in at least 298 out of the 299 constituencies where voting was held, and there was a strong showing by independent candidates, almost all of them actually AL leaders who missed out on the party's nomination but were encouraged to run anyway by the prime minister and party president herself.

The ruling party's candidates won 222 seats in Sunday's voting, and are likely to pick up another one where results were withheld, as the vote will be held again in a single centre where it had to be cancelled. The AL candidate is leading and his lead is insurmountable with the votes from the single centre. Independent candidates (most of them known to be AL affiliates) won in 62 seats, surprising AL incumbents and even cabinet members in a number of constituencies.

The AL's victory was merely a formality to be completed, and so the real story of the election might be the utter capitulation of the Jatiya Party. Its seat share in the new parliament will be half what it enjoyed in the outgoing one. The party's existential crisis is set to get worse, as even the AL, which has nurtured it through the last 10 years or so, seems to consider it surplus to requirements these days, or not worth the hassle. It did win 11 seats, but that was after it negotiated on bended knee with the AL and convinced it to pass on upto 26 seats, where AL withdrew its candidates. But it was powerless to stop the independents.

Sensing the debacle, many of the party's candidates stopped campaigning at various points leading up to the election. They called it a withdrawal, but the official date for withdrawal was long past, and these late decisions were bound to count for nothing. Bangladesh Workers' Party, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal-Jasod and Bangladesh Kalyan Party each secured a seat. It's going to be the lowest number of political parties ever represented in a Bangladeshi parliament - just 5.

For now though, JP will have to play the role of the weakest opposition in the history of Bangladesh's parliament. Their abysmally low number of seats occasioned questions over whether they can actually fill this role, but actually that concern was unfounded. No matter how emasculated, JP will play the role of the opposition. doesn't matter. The answer is to be found in the Leader of the Opposition and Deputy Leader (Remuneration and Benefits) Act, which states: "Leader of the Opposition in the House means as per discretion of Speaker, a parliament member who is the leader of a party or association of highest number in the House opposes to the government party."

The only party or association with more than a single seat, apart from the AL, is JP. The independent candidates, unless they decide to caucus together under a program of policy priorities, are by definition not a party nor an association. Plus we know they are almost all likely to caucus with the treasury benches, i.e. the Awami League.

Smooth sailing

Awami League President and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina cast her vote at Dhaka City College in the capital this morning. She ran however in the Gopalganj-3 constituency, where she bagged victory with 2,49,965 votes while her nearest rival M Nizam Uddin Lascar from Bangladesh Supreme Party secured 469 votes, said Returning officer of the district Kazi Mahbubul Alam.

She is now set to extend her run as Bangladesh's longest-serving prime minister.

Some heavyweight candidates who lost the election are Jatiya Party (JP) Chairman Anwar Hossain Manju, Workers' Party's Fazle Hossain Badsha, Jatiyo Party's Sharifa Quader, Krishak Sramik Janata League's Kader Siddiqi, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal's Hasanul Haque Inu, and Awami League candidates State Minister for Civil Aviation Mahbub Ali, LGRD State Minister Swapan Bhattacharjee, State Minister for Environment and Forest Enamur Rahman, Momtaz Begum MP and Mrinal Kanti Das MP.

The Election Commission decided to cancel the candidature of Chittagong-16 Awami League candidate Mostafizur Rahman Chowdhury in the morning for threatening the law enforcement agencies.

Voting was by-and-large peaceful, with suspensions in just a dozen or so out of almost 42,000 centres across the 299 seats. The vote in one constituency had been postponed after the death of a candidate in the week preceding the election.

The results of the election were of course a mostly foregone conclusion as the main opposition BNP, the only party comparable to AL in terms of support and previous government experience, refused to participate.

One of the few BNP leaders who happened to not be in jail on the day, standing committee member Abdul Moyeen Khan, saluted the voters for heeding the opposition's call to abstain from voting in Sunday's polls that the party dubbed "lopsided", claiming that their election boycott campaign was successful.

"The people of the world are watching; the people of the country are watching; the people of Bangladesh have boycotted this election," Moyeen said.

He also saluted the people of Bangladesh not only on behalf of the BNP, but also on behalf of all 62 political parties (many of them unregistered) that boycotted the 'farcical election'.

"Today, I salute the people of Bangladesh for one reason only: that they have never compromised on the question of democracy, and they will not compromise this time either," the veteran leader said.

Although ambassadors from around a dozen countries including Russia, China, India and Japan personally visited Hasina to congratulate her or attended her interaction with the press at her official residence the next day, the US in a statement said the vote was not free and fair, and the UK largely echoed that sentiment in a statement of its own.

The turnout turnaround

On the day of the election, the Election Commission secretary reported turnout was 27.15 percent till 3pm, but after voting closed at 4pm, the Chief Election Commissioner estimated the final turnout could stand at around 40 percent, after having said 28 percent at first, before being prompted by one of his officials to go with 40. It would mean voting in the last hour was thrice the average of the first seven hours. It sounds a bit of a stretch, by all accounts. But it is not impossible.

The day after the election, the CEC put the number at 41.8%. Gazetted results published by the EC showed it was closer to 42%. Some 21 constituencies did see turnout in excess of 60%. It was lower than 30% though in at least 52 constituencies, according to Election Commission data.

The highest 87.24% votes were cast in Gopalganj-3 and Awami League president and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was elected from the constituency, according to the data.

The lowest turnout was 13.04% in Dhaka-15. State minister for industries Kamal Ahmed Majumdar won the election from the constituency as an AL contender.

Out of the country's 300 seats, Sunday's (Jan. 7) balloting was held in 299 seats as the election to Naogaon-2 was earlier postponed by the commission following the death of a candidate.

The five constituencies with more than 70% voter turnout are - Gopalganj-3 (87.24% turnout; AL candidate Sheikh Hasina won), Gopalganj-2 (83.20%; AL candidate Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim won), Brahmanbaria-6 (76%, AL's AB Tajul Islam won), Chattogram-6 (73.24%; AL's ABM Fazle Karim Chowdhury won) and Sirajganj-1 (72.32%; AL candidate Tanvir Shakil Joy won).

The constituencies having over 60% voter turnout include Naogaon-1, Bagerhat-1, Bagerhat-2, Bagerhat-4, Barishal-1, Jamalpur-1, Mymensingh-10, Faridpur-4, Gopalganj-1, Madaripur-1, Cumilla-7, Cumilla-8, Feni-2, Noakhali-6, Chattogram-7 and Bandarban.

Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim secured the highest 295,291 votes for the 'boat' symbol in Gopalganj-2.

Tanvir Shakil Joy got the second highest, 278,971 votes, in Sirajganj-1.

Mirza Azam received 276,453 votes in Jamalpur-3 and Dipankar Talukdar got 271,373 votes in Rangamati.

Among the elected candidates, independent candidate Awlad Hossain secured victory obtaining the lowest number of 24,775 votes in Dhaka-4.

Candidates who won even after getting less than 40,000 votes are: AL nominated Muhammad Shafikur Rahman (36,458 votes) in Chandpur-4, independent contestant Saddam Hossain Pavel (39,321 votes) in Nilphamari-3 and AL's Kamal Ahmed Majumdar (39,632 votes) in Dhaka-15.

Less than 20 % votes were cast in five constituencies, which are Dhaka-15 (13.04%), Dhaka-17 (16.66%), Dhaka-8 (18.70%), Sylhet-1 (19.30%) and Dhaka-16 (19.88 percent). In Sylhet-1, foreign minister AK Abdul Momen was elected.

Jatiya Party chairman GM Quader and secretary general Mujibul Haque won amid low turnout of voters in their constituencies.

GM Quader ran the election from Rangpur-3 where the voter turnout was only 22.36%. Mujibul Haque who contested the polls from Kishoreganj-3 witnessed voter turnout of 29.33%.

The constituencies that witnessed voter turnout between 20-29% also include Rangpur-3, Kurigram-1, Kurigram-2, Kurigram-3, Gaibandha-1, Gaibandha-3, Bogura-2, Bogura-4, Bogura-6, Bogura-7, Chapainawabganj-3, Rajshahi-2, Patuakhali-1, Barishal-5, Mymensingh-5, Mymensingh-6, Mymensingh-8, Kishoreganj-3, Manikganj-1, Dhaka-4, Dhaka-5, Dhaka-6, Dhaka-7, Dhaka-9, Dhaka-10, Dhaka-11, Dhaka-13, Dhaka-14, Dhaka-18, Dhaka-19, Gazipur-2, Sylhet-5, Sylhet-6, Habiganj-1, Chandpur-3, Chandpur-4, Noakhali-3, Noakhali-4, Lakshmipur-1, Lakshmipur-3, Lakshmipur-4, Chattogram-5, Chattogram-8, Chattogram-10, Chattogram-11, Chattogram-15 and Cox's Bazar-1.

A total of 4,99,65,467 votes out of 11,89,89,241 were cast in the 298 constituencies declared.

'Let them criticise'

With Bangladesh potentially becoming a theatre for great power rivalry, one of the most anticipated aspects of holding the kind of election it did was going to be the international reaction, and they didn't fail to disappoint in terms of keeping tensions alive.

"The election was free and fair," Hasina told reporters in her first comments after the vote, where her party took three-quarters of seats in parliament after polls boycotted by the opposition, with the turnout a meagre 41.8%. "If any party does not participate in the election, it does not mean there is no democracy," she said, adding that "those who want to criticise can criticise".

Her comments would seem to have fallen on deaf ears, at least in the West.

The United States in a statement said flat-out that Bangladesh's election was not free or fair. "The United States shares the view with other observers that these elections were not free or fair and we regret that not all parties participated," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

Britain said the polls that saw Hasina returned to power did not meet the standard of free and fair elections. "Democratic elections depend on credible, open, and fair competition. Respect for human rights, rule of law and due process are essential elements of the democratic process," the UK's Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office said. "These standards were not consistently met during the election period."

London added that it was "concerned" by the significant number of arrests of opposition party members before polling day: "We condemn the acts of intimidation and violence that took place prior to and during the campaign period. Such conduct has no place in political life."

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk called on Bangladesh's newly-elected government to take steps to renew the country's commitment to democracy and human rights.

"I implore the government to take the necessary steps to ensure that the human rights of all Bangladeshis are fully taken into account, and to strengthen the underpinnings of a truly inclusive democracy in the country," Turk said in a statement published on the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The UN official also voiced distress over how the environment for the poll was marred by violence and repression of opposition candidates and supporters.

"In the months leading up to the vote, thousands of opposition supporters have been detained arbitrarily or subjected to intimidation. Such tactics are not conducive to a truly genuine process," said Turk, an Austrian lawyer.

The UN human rights chief pointed out, "Mass arrests, threats, enforced disappearances, blackmailing and surveillance were all methods reportedly used by law enforcement officials prior to the ballot, which was boycotted by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party."

"Acts of political violence, including arson attacks allegedly committed by opposition groups, have also been reported. Democracy was hard won in Bangladesh and must not become cosmetic," he concluded.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted he had called Hasina and congratulated her on her "historic" victory, praising the "successful conduct" of the polls.

Envoys from India, China and Russia were among the first to congratulate Hasina, visiting her at home the day after the election and praising her "absolute victory," the PMO said in a statement.

Beijing's ambassador Yao Wen praised a "long-established friendship" with Dhaka in a statement, underlining the deepening ties during Hasina's 15-year-long rule. Later in the week Chinese President Xi Jinping also spoke to Hasina and congratulated her.

Canada and Australia released stern statements critical of the electoral process, but the EU released a mealy-mouthed statement that was neither here nor there. Prior to the election we saw the government ratchet up its engagement with the bloc of course, and the visit of Emmanuel Macron to the country in September marked something of a turning point in the EU's otherwise consistent line in favour of a free-and-fair election.

Finally Japan, the country's most important development partner, released its view on the election, and it was no surprise. Tokyo had never been likely to downgrade the growing relationship between the two countries on the basis of some democratic shortcomings.

A statement by Press Secretary Kobayashi Maki said Japan welcomed the fact that overall the election was generally conducted peacefully.

He said, "As far as our mission was able to observe, the election process was conducted in accordance with procedures. On the other hand, we regret that there were incidents of violence with casualties in the process leading up to the general election."

The mission referred to is election observer mission headed by its former ambassador to Bangladesh, Watanabe Masato, consisting of officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of Japan in Bangladesh as well as an outside expert, that the country dispatched for the election.

With that, the government could be said to be home safely. The boat had reached its harbour.

Director of the South Asia Institute at Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. Michael Kugelman said in South Asia and the broader Global South, Awami League President Sheikh Hasina's return will be welcomed. He cited her focus on economic growth, connectivity, nonalignment, climate change, global peacekeeping and hosting of Rohingyas as reasons for this.

"Easy to overlook this with so much focus on what the West thinks," he said.

Currently the US's most prolific expert on South Asia, Kugelman noted how hours after Bangladesh's election result was declared, the Indian, Russian, and Chinese envoys all extended their congratulations to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

"If anyone is surprised by this, there's no reason to be. They all (not just India) have long viewed her as a key partner," he shared on X, formerly known as Twitter.

"And guess what other country's ambassador has now congratulated Hasina? Pakistan. Perhaps the only country in South Asia that might be a bit uncomfortable about her return. But still willing to accept the election result," Kugelman said in a separate message posted from his verified X account.

Acceptance in the Global South is all good, but it does still leave some matters unresolved with the West, and how those play out in the days ahead, will surely keep Bangladeshis on their toes. At least more than the election did.

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