The ease with which the Awami League won the Bangladesh general election on 30 December 2018 surpassed even its most optimistic expectations. The party won 288 of the 299 seats in the country’s parliament. Even dictators holding sham elections, such as Saddam Hussein in Iraq or Josef Stalin in the Soviet Union, would have felt embarrassed at such a rout of the opposition. Sheikh Hasina Wazed was sworn in as prime minister for a third consecutive term. The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, promptly congratulated her on her “resounding victory” and said the results indicated “Bangladesh’s stunning development under her dynamic leadership.” China, too, was quick to deem the election smooth and successful. And yet, this was nowhere near the dream victory it seemed on paper.
The ruling party’s campaign was marred by political intrigue, pre-poll violence and serious allegations of voter fraud. As Bangladesh went to vote, reports arrived from across the country of harassment and threats against opposition workers and candidates, as well as the defacing of opposition posters and banners and a deliberate slowdown of the internet, ostensibly to prevent the spread of rumours. At least seventeen people died in election-related violence.
After the results were declared, the opposition calling the election “farcical,” and a handful of opposition parliamentarians decided not to take the oath of office. What confounded experts is that the Awami League fared better than it did in the 2014 election. The opposition Bangladesh National Party had boycotted that election, because the Awami League had not let a caretaker government take over before the election to ensure neutrality, as was the norm in 2008. Several commentators said that since it seemed certain that the Awami League was going to win the election, such backhanded manoeuvres were ultimately unnecessary.