Polls Close in
Bangladesh- Former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's coalition, which
includes three Islamic fundamentalist parties, appeared headed for a
landslide win in Bangladesh's parliamentary elections, according to
unofficial vote counts Tuesday.
As the hand counting continued for 299 seats in parliament, state
television reported that unofficial results were available for 252 of
them and that Zia's coalition was building up a big lead.
It said the coalition was winning 203, the Awami League of former Prime
Minister Sheikh Hasina trailed with 37, and the other 12 seats were held
by small, nonaligned parties or independents.
Hasina held a news conference challenging the results and alleging fraud
in the elections Monday, monitored by some 500 foreign and local
observers. However, foreign observers sent by the United Nations said
the vote was "sufficiently free, fair and peaceful, particularly after a
Newspapers had predicted a much closer election between Zia and Hasina,
women who have long been the two most powerful politicians in
Bangladesh, a poor and male-dominated country located between India and
Voting for the 300th seat in parliament was delayed when a candidate
suddenly died before Monday's vote.
Final results aren't expected until Wednesday, and the coalition or
party that controls Parliament will have until Oct. 15 to form a new
government and select the country's next prime minister.
Zia, 56, who last served as prime minister twice between 1991 and 1996,
was the first woman to hold that role in this mostly Muslim nation.
Hasina, 54, who left office in July, was the first prime minister in
Bangladesh to complete a full, five-year term.
The two are bitter enemies, and disputes between their parties have
routinely shut down the country with violent general strikes. Violence
during the campaign killed 155 people and injured more than 2,500.
But only five people were killed during Monday's vote as polling
stations were guarded by tens of thousands of security forces.
Bangladesh, which returned to democracy in 1991, is ruled by secular
laws, but Zia's alliance includes parties that promote Shariah, or
The 203 seats held by Zia's coalition, according to the preliminary
results, included 16 for one of its three fundamentalist parties, the
Jamaat-e-Islami. It favors Islamic law and had held only three seats in
the last Parliament.
Although Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party does not advocate replacing
Bangladesh's secular laws with Islamic law and tradition, her three
The BNP also joined them in a 1991-96 campaign against volunteer
agencies that tried to spread jobs, education and self-sufficiency to
The Awami League of Hasina supports secularism.
Zia and Hasina both approved Bangladesh's support for the U.S. fight
against terrorism, a decision taken by the caretaker administration that
took over from Hasina on July 15 to supervise the elections.
However, demonstrations have been held in favor of accused terrorist
Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, the main suspect in the Sept. 11
terrorist attacks on the United States.
It was unclear how Zia's BNP's alliance with Jamaat would affect its
pro-U.S. policies, which include granting use of Bangladesh air space
and other help for expected U.S. military attacks on bin Laden and his
training camps in Afghanistan.
Jamaat does not consider bin Laden a terrorist.
Zia and Hasina both support a free-market economy in Bangladesh, one of
the world's poorest nations.
source: Las Vegas SUN,
02 October 2001