In Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina from the Awami League won the first elections to take place in the troubled country in over seven years by a landslide on Tuesday. The former Prime Minister won well over 200 seats in the 300-seat parliament and the “Grand Alliance” won over 260 altogether. The four-party coalition of Hasina’s arch-rival, former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda only won 31 seats in her worst election showing ever.
Sheikh Hasina, head of the Awami League, won the elections by a landslide
“We want to establish Bangladesh as a secular democratic Bangladesh, poverty-free Bangladesh and illiteracy-free Bangladesh.”
This is what Sheikh Hasina said in 2007 when she was arrested on corruption charges.
When she was released this year by the army-backed regime to campaign in the elections, along with Khaleda Zia from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party or BNP, she reiterated these promises.
A woman of the people
The 61-year-old mother of two is well-read and well-travelled but she considers herself to be a woman of the people.
The people have high expectations of her, as this woman demonstrated: “First she should look after us simple people and make sure we have rice and lentils on our plates every day. After that they have to fight against corruption and to deal with law and order.”
Hasina and her Awami League have sketched out a Five Point Programme, named “Charter for Change“ in reference to US President-Elect Barack Obama, that sets out to lower food prices, curb corruption, secure energy supplies and reduce poverty and inequality.
“I’m sure she’s a very capable leader. She has ruled the country for five years and if she just repeats what she did in the last regime she’ll be really, really successful,” said this supporter who had no doubts about Hasina’s ability to fulfil her campaign promises:
Fighting poverty in times of global financial crisis
But the times are against Hasina. She wants to establish a “poverty-free” Bangladesh when the global financial system is in a state of collapse and poverty is even taking hold of rich nations such as the United States and Japan. Nonetheless, she says she is determined to boost growth.
Apart from the economy, the greatest challenges that Hasina faces are endemic corruption and a rising Islamist militancy. Although she is a devout Muslim, she strongly believes religion has no role to play in politics.
Her landslide victory is a sign that the country’s overwhelmingly moderate Muslims share this view. Her arch-rival Khaleda Zia is thought to have suffered losses in the elections by forming an alliance with the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, which also lost 15 of its 17 seats.
Fair and square victory
The Election Commission and independent observers said there had been few glitches and Hasina had won the election fair and square.
But members from both the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami complained of irregularities in the election process.
Now it remains to be seen how the opposition will handle their crushing defeat.
A heavy past
The daughter of the founder of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Hasina has been politically active since her student days. In 1969, she took part in the uprising against Islamabad, which led to war with Pakistan and the founding of an independent state in 1971.
Four years later, Hasina and her sister were in Germany when a coup was staged against her father, who was killed along with her mother and brothers.
Returning to Bangladesh in 1981, she vowed to pursue her father’s path and fight for the rights of the poor in Bangladesh. After countless spells in jail, she became prime minister in 1996 and was alternately in power with Khaleda Zia until 2006. Both leaders were later accused of corruption and sent to jail by the interim government.
Hasina’s new government is expected to take charge in about ten days.