State Dept. questions if Bangladesh elections served will of people

Jan. 6, 2014 at 3:21 PM
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DHAKA, Bangladesh, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- The U.S. State Department said it was disappointed in the elections in Bangladesh, saying they didn't seem to "credibly express" the will of the people.

"With more than half of the seats uncontested and most of the remainder offering only token opposition," the department said Monday in a release, "the results of the just-concluded elections do not appear to credibly express the will of the Bangladeshi people."

Low voter turnout and violence that claimed at least 18 lives marked Bangladesh's parliamentary poll as opposition parties demanded its cancellation.

The Bangladesh Daily Star reported the Sunday elections were the bloodiest since Bangladesh emerged as an independent democracy in 1971 after it broke off from Pakistan following a war in which tens of thousands died.

Ever since the date for the latest elections was announced, 18 parties, led by the main opposition Bangladesh National Party of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, had been calling for a neutral caretaker government to oversee the polls instead of the ruling Awami League led by Prime Minister Sheik Hasina. The prime minister decided to go ahead with the elections despite the opposition's boycott, resulting in the latest round of violence.

"We condemn in the strongest terms the violence from all quarters that continues to mark the prevailing political impasse," the State Department said. "Violence is not an acceptable element of the political process; we call on all to stop committing further violence."

The Daily Star said the ruling Awami League was declared the winner of 74 seats in the 147 of the 300 constituencies where polling was held Sunday. Candidates in another 153 seats had already been declared elected unopposed, giving the ruling party a comfortable two-thirds majority.

The Daily Star said the Awami League is free to form a new government any time.

The Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha news agency said the BNP-led opposition alliance called for a 48-hour countrywide strike and demanded cancellation of the Sunday elections.

Media outlets indicated only four foreign election observers and 30 foreign journalists observed the elections.

"While it remains to be seen what form the new government will take, United States commitment to supporting the people of Bangladesh remains undiminished," the State Department statement said. "To that end, we encourage the government of Bangladesh and opposition parties to engage in immediate dialogue to find a way to hold as soon as possible elections that are free, fair, peaceful and credible, reflecting the will of the Bangladeshi people."

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