The parliamentary elections in Bangladesh on December 30 were expected to determine the democratic future of the world's eighth most populous country and third-largest Muslim-majority nation. More than 100 million people were registered to cast their ballots on December 30. The ruling Awami League (AL) party, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, pulled out all the stops to secure victory, while the country's beleaguered opposition desperately tried to put up a tough fight.
While Hasina's administration has presided over strong economic growth during its decade in power, it has been marred by allegations of rights abuses and intolerance for dissent. Khaleda Zia, the leader of the nation's main opposition outfit, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), was recently ordered by a court to stay behind bars for a decade on graft charges. Zia, a two-time former prime minister, was also barred from contesting the election.
Zia's supporters say the charges are politically motivated to stymie a political threat to Hasina. The BNP boycotted the 2014 election over fears it would be rigged, allowing Hasina to be re-elected unchallenged. That election was condemned by international observers. The opposition opted to contest the ballot this time around.
Bangladesh has been led by either Zia or Hasina since the 1990s and the two powerful women have turned from close allies to fierce enemies.