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    Bangladesh's Sheikh Hasina Wins Landslide Election

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    The Awami League, led by former prime minister Sheik Hasina, has gained a clear majority of the parliamentary seats in Bangladesh's election. International observers are preliminarily deeming the election fair, which came after a two-year period of emergency rule by an army-backed caretaker government.  There are high hopes there that the poverty-wracked country of 150 million people is putting its legacy of autocratic, corrupt and violent politics behind it.

    Election officials say the Awami League overwhelmingly was the dominant party in the first parliamentary election here in seven years. The secular, left-of-center party, led by Sheik Hasina, captured about 230 of the parliament's 300 seats. Allied parties won about another 30. The Awami League now has a mandate to push through constitutional changes and its sweeping reform manifesto.

    The election commission says a record 85 percent of eligible voters went to the polls.

    The results are a crushing defeat for Hasina's long-time foe, former prime minister Khaleda Zia, who allied with several other parties, including an Islamic fundamentalist group.  

    Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party is formally complaining that its supporters were kept from voting in various places.

    Such allegations are not swaying the preliminary opinion of domestic and international observers that the election process, while not perfect, was conducted in a fair manner and free of the widespread vote-rigging typical of past elections.

    Former U.S. assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, Constance Berry Newman, led the 65-person observer delegation of the International Republican Institute.

    "Though observers noted many procedural irregularities they did not believe them of the scope and severity that would call into question the legitimacy of the process or the outcome," said Newman.

    Despite the Awami League's overwhelming victory, Melbourne University (Australia) political science research fellow Syeed Ahamed says Sheik Hasina's party must give its arch-rival a role in parliamentary affairs.

    "Even if BNP has only some say 30 to 35 seats in the popular vote they actually present almost 50 percent of the population," said Ahamed. "That should be kept in mind. If Awami League do not put BNP in a significant position, what will happen if actually BNP resigns en masse from the parliament? It will be chaos."

    The two major rival parties traded power during a 15-year period that ended in 2006 with political violence on the streets spinning out of control. That compelled the military to intervene, installing a caretaker government.

    The interim leaders vowed a crackdown on political corruption, jailing hundreds of people, including Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia. The two fierce rivals, known as the "Battling Begums" and heirs to political dynasties, were freed to contest the long-delayed election.




    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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