An independent and impartial commission should investigate the serious allegations of abuses in the Bangladesh election, elections, Human Rights Watch said. The allegations include attacks on opposition party members, voter intimidation, vote rigging, and partisan behavior by election officials in the pre-election period and on election day.
After a campaign married by violence, mass arrests of the opposition and a crackdown on free speech, the election commission announced that the ruling Awami League won the December 30, 2018 election, returning Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to a third consecutive term, with the ruling party winning 288 of the 298 parliamentary seats contested. The prime minister said the election was “free and fair”, while the opposition described the election as “farcical”.
“The pre-election period was characterized by violence and intimidation against the opposition, attacks on opposition campaign events, and the misuse of laws to limit free speech,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Reports of ballot stuffing, intimidation of voters, and ruling party control of voting locations on election day mean that an independent and impartial commission should be formed to determine the extent of the violations.”
Thousands of opposition supporters were arrested before the election, and journalists described having to censor their reporting for fear of arrerst and violence. The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission required all telecommunication operators to shut down 3G and 4G internet services ahead of the election, preventing communication and information sharing. At least 17 peole were killed in violence related to the voting on election day.
Opposition parties, journalists, and voters alleged serious irregularities including ballot stuffing, voters being denied access to polling places, ruling party activists occupying polling places and casting ballots in the place of voters, electoral officials and the police behaving in a partisan manner, and violations of voter privacy in an atmosphere of blatant intimidation.
The opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) said its polling agents were denied access in 221 constituencies. Chief Election Commissioner Nurul Huda characterized the reports of electoral violations on polling day as “strary incidents.” Police chief Javed Patwari described the atmosphere as “peaceful”