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BANGLADESH: Violence continues after December elections

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bd_election.jpgOdhikar, a Bangladeshi human rights organisation and FORUM-ASIA's member based in Dhaka, has published its report on post-election violence and human rights violations on 1 February 2009.

According to Odhikar, 17 persons were reportedly killed and over 500 persons were injured in clashes in different places across the country, in a continuation of post-election violence. In most cases, activists and supporters of Awami League (AL) and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) were found to be involved. Of the 17 persons reportedly killed, nine were BNP supporters and eight were AL supporters.

Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina won in a landslide victory on 29 December in an election marked by a high voter turnout, in the country's first parliamentary elections in seven years, which saw the end of two years of emergency rule by a military-backed caretaker government.

The post-election violence continued into the upazila (local council) elections on 22 January 2009. In the weeks leading up to the upazila elections, Odhikar reports that four persons were killed and more than 800 wounded in clashes. Because of the clashes and anomalies by political activists as well as government officials, in many places the polling processes were stopped. In the violence, 14 persons (ten from BNP and four from AL) were reportedly killed and about 2,000 persons were injured due to retaliatory attacks by the supporters of the Four Party Alliance and Grand Alliance and, in particular, supporters of Awami League and BNP.

Election violence is not unheard of in Bangladesh. Violent clashes erupted between supporters of the numerous parties running in the last scheduled election during October and November 2006. Political gatherings were banned in many parts of the country, and many lives were lost in the protests. This crisis led to the appointment of a non-party caretaker government, controlled by the military. In January 2007 public protests brought the capital, Dhaka, to a standstill. This crisis in Bangladeshi politics led to a 2-year military backed emergency caretaker government, which recently relinquished power after the current elections.

In the months leading up to 29 December 2008 election, the Bangladesh Election Commission instituted extensive and stringent new election rules in an update on the Representation of the People's Order of 1972, issued in November 2008. The new election rules gave sweeping powers to the election commission to investigate and reject the candidature of anyone violating election law, and oversaw the election under a 'relaxed' state of emergency. The election commission also purged 11 million fraudulent names from the electoral rolls, and registered voters with their photographs.

These steps were supposed to lead to an open election and prevent the level of violence seen in the past. Most election observers call the 29 December elections one of the fairest in country's history. However, the continued incidents of violence threaten to destabilise the democratic process and the newly elected government.

(Photo courtesy of Reuters)