A day ahead of parliamentary elections in Bangladesh, over a dozen international rights groups on Saturday expressed concern over an increasingly “restrictive” environment.
Sixteen advocacy group for human rights and democracy decried “the restrictive electoral environment surrounding the 11th General Election in Bangladesh, set to be held on December 30, 2018," the Asian Network for Free Elections said in a statement released on the groups’ behalf.
The statement said the government led by ruling party head Prim Minister Sheikh Hasina "has embarked upon a crackdown on civil society, the opposition, and the media, undermining any semblance of a democratic process."
"This places a severe strain on the waning health of democratic engagement in Bangladesh, and compromises the integrity of the upcoming election.”
During the Dec. 10-26 campaign period, the statement said: “There have been at least 30 reported attacks on opposition motorcades, 207 incidents of violence took place in 159 constituencies, at least 43 candidates of the Jatiya Oikyafront were attacked and 13 candidates were seriously injured, 17 opposition candidates were arrested, while the High Court Division of the Supreme Court disqualified BNP [opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party] candidates of 23 constituencies.”
Five people were killed and nearly 2,700 were injured in election-related violence during this period, it added.
The statement also decried the low number of election observers.
Uneasy runup to polls
Over 600,000 security personnel, including army, police, elite force, and paramilitaries, have been deployed to ensure poll security on Sunday.
All 3G and 4G mobile services were suspended across the country at the order of Bangladesh telecom regulators, which said service would be restored right after election day.
Separately, the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) claimed Saturday that police and members of the ruling Awami League have warned their members against being stationed at polling places.
Since Dec. 10, as many as 21,000 of opposition party members and supporters have been arrested, according to opposition figures.
Hasina claimed Saturday that the BNP-led opposition alliance could boycott the vote on election day, calling on her party members and supporters as well as other political parties to beware of opposition efforts to call the polls into question.
Events in Bangladesh in the runup to the election do not bode well for peaceful polls, Dhaka University political analyst C.R. Abrar told Anadolu Agency.
“Police misconduct, the callousness of election authorities, biased administration, propaganda by state-run television in favor of government -- all these indicate that a fair election cannot be held under a political government,” he said.
An election held in such a restrictive environment calls into question the legality and acceptance of the incoming government, he said.