Opposition boycotts swearing-in of new Bangladesh MPs

DHAKA (AFP) – Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) yesterday boycotted the swearing-in of the new Bangladesh Parliament members after a controversial election that was dogged by allegations of intimidation and fraud.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was declared the landslide winner after last Sunday’s poll, marking a third term in office for the leader accused of increasing authoritarianism and overseeing a crackdown on the opposition.

Hasina and 290 other MPs – mainly from the ruling Awami League and its allies – took the oath yesterday, with Hasina elected as Parliament leader, the first step to her being named Prime Minister of the South Asian nation.

But seven opposition MPs boycotted the ceremony, calling for a re-run of the elections – something Hasina has ruled out. Parliament spokesman Kamal Hossain said that if the MPs do not take an oath within 90 days, new elections will be held in their constituencies.

Opposition leaders and candidates from last Sunday’s election, which ended with at least 17 dead in voting-related unrest, met in Dhaka and were expected to submit an official request to the election commission for the results to be cancelled.

Bangladeshi police personnel stand guard next to left-wing activists wearing black cloth over their mouths during a demonstration organised by the Communist Party of Bangladesh against the allegedly fraudulent victory of the ruling Awami League in the recent general election, in Dhaka yesterday. – AFP

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its allies said that there was widespread voter intimidation and rigging of the results.

The European Union (EU) has called on Bangladesh authorities to probe the obstacles to voting which it said had “tainted” the election, while the United States (US) has expressed concern about “credible reports of harassment, intimidation and violence”.

“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,” said Brad Adams, the Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, which has also called for an investigation.

The Communist Party of Bangladesh and other left-wing parties staged a protest yesterday outside the National Press Club in Dhaka demanding the cancellation of the poll, with some 200 people standing in a human chain with black ribbons tied around their mouths.