For the fourth consecutive term, Sheikh Hasina solidifies her firm control over Bangladesh

Dhaka, Bangladesh, Jan 8 (EFE).- Sheikh Hasina, daughter of the “father” of Bangladesh, reaffirmed her iron grip on the politics of the Asian country on Monday by winning a landslide victory in Sunday’s general election, which was boycotted by the opposition and marked by low voter turnout.

Hasina, who has ruled since 2008 and previously from 1996 to 2001, took power for the fourth time.

The “Iron Lady’s” victory was expected given the absence of opposition candidates and her control over the Awami League since 1981, founded by her progenitor and “Father of the Nation,” Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Hasina claims a democratic pedigree

“I have struggled a lot for voting rights, suffered jail, torture, had to face bomb, grenade attack but I could hand back people their voting right,” Hasina told the media after casting her ballot last Sunday.

Hasina’s rise began with the assassination of her father in a 1975 coup that wiped out much of her family, in keeping with a long-standing political tradition in the Asian world, where wives or daughters have often assumed political leadership of the party led by their husbands or fathers after their deaths.

Hasina, 76, the heir to this key figure in Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan, built her network of supporters from exile in New Delhi.

The prime minister returned to Bangladesh in 1981, where she joined forces with her future rival, Khaleda Zia, now barred from politics.

A three-time prime minister and leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Zia is currently languishing, halfway between hospitals and house arrest, after being convicted of corruption in 2017.

The two women led a popular uprising in 1990 that eventually dethroned military dictator Mohamed Ershad and ushered in democracy, but also a historic rivalry: hence their historic fight for the right to vote, which Hasina boasted of on Sunday.

The Awami League leader first came to power in 1996, at a time when the “two begums,” as they are known in this Muslim country, alternated in power.

But Hasina’s hegemony began only in 2008, after a two-year exceptional period with an interim regime under the tutelage of the ruling army.

Much has changed in Bangladesh since that victory when the current ruler promised to give space to the opposition and bring a new political culture with results rejected by the opposition.

On Sunday, while claiming her democratic pedigree, Hasina called Zia’s BNP “terrorists” for boycotting the election.

According to the Awami League via X (formerly Twitter), the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamist formation, began attacking voters, a clear indication of how they were denying the people their right to vote.

An authoritarian drift

Hasina has a record of economic success and poverty reduction, which, according to the World Bank, hovered around 12% in 2010 and is expected to fall to 5% by 2022.

A prestige that also extends to the international arena for her decision to provide refuge to more than one million Rohingya people, including some 774,000 who fled from an army offensive in their home country of Myanmar in 2017, which qualified as an attempted genocide.

Nonetheless, her critics blame her for the deterioration of democracy in Bangladesh due to her authoritarian tendencies, as well as serious human rights abuses such as extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances that occurred during her rule.

The BNP and much of the opposition have boycotted the election over Hasina’s refusal to dissolve her government and form an interim administration. The main opposition has also denounced the arrest of more than 24,000 leaders and activists in the months leading up to Sunday’s vote.

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