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Bangladesh Awaits Election Results - 2001-10-01

Bangladesh is waiting for ballots to be counted after voting in general elections concluded Monday evening. The frontrunners are two women politicians: Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina. One of the heaviest security operations in the country's 30 year history ensured that polling was relatively peaceful.

Enthusiastic voters across towns and villages turned out in large numbers to cast ballots despite the violence that preceded the election. In the capital, Dhaka, police moved around in trucks mounted with guns in an effort to ensure that voting was free and fair.

Scattered incidents of violence were reported. But independent political observer Ataus Samad says voting at most places took place in a peaceful atmosphere. "Contrary to earlier fears people themselves went to the polling stations in a quite joyous mood and peaceful mood," he said. "The mood of the people themselves that they must be able to vote and that they must be able to do it peacefully has contributed to this peaceful situation."

The election is being seen as a bitter contest between two women who dominate the country's political landscape - Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League and Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist party.

Both are former prime ministers and have been accused of running a hostile campaign that has heightened political tensions in the country and led to widespread violence, during the campaign.

Observers say the election focused more on the bitter rivalry between Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina than any issues. Both candidates promised to reduce poverty and promote democracy.

But political analyst Ataus Samad says voters were more concerned with issues such as increasing crime and corruption in the country. "People say what we want is law and order and what we want is peace so we can get on with our own business," he said.

Election officials begin the task of counting millions of ballots after the polls closed. Final results are expected to be out late Tuesday.

The election is expected to be close. And there are fears that despite the peaceful voting, there could be more political conflict afterward because neither side appears prepared to accept defeat.

The last government headed by Awami League's Sheikh Hasina resigned in July, to allow a non-partisan government to supervise the elections.