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7 die as votes cast amid boycott of rural councils in Bangladesh

At least seven people were killed in election violence in Bangladesh as voters chose village council representatives in an election on Thursday that was expected to further strengthen the governing party’s power amid concerns about the country’s state of democracy .

The largest opposition party boycotted the vote, saying a heterogeneous political climate was preventing fair participation. There were widespread allegations of misconduct during the last two national elections, and political violence has affected previous votes in Bangladesh, particularly for rural councils.

Till late Thursday evening, it was not clear how many members of the ruling Awami League party were elected to head rural councils.

A senior police officer, Satyajat Kumar Ghosh, said groups used guns and spears to prevent supporters of opponents from reaching polling stations in a village in central Bangladesh’s Narsingdi district, killing three people. He said at least 20 others were injured in the chaos.

Village council elections are certainly being held in Bangladesh to further consolidate the power of the ruling party, but it has raised concerns about the state of democracy. The largest opposition party is boycotting the vote after allegations of misconduct in the last two national elections. (AP Photo / Mahmood Hussain Opu)

Another person was killed in clashes between rival groups in the southern Cox’s Bazar district, the newspaper Prothom Alo reported. The newspaper said six others were injured in the area.

The Daily Star newspaper reported that two people died in the eastern district of Kamila and another in the southeastern district of Chattogram.

Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Hooda on Thursday warned against poll violence ahead of polling and said security measures were being put in place to respond to any incident.

Ahead of voting this month, campaign violence left at least nine people dead and hundreds injured. According to the Ain-o-Salish Centre, a Dhaka-based rights group, 85 people have been killed and more than 6,000 injured in election-related violence in Bangladesh since January.

In Thursday’s elections, more than 15 million eligible voters elected representatives to 835 councils, after proceedings were postponed over irregularities or violence in some places.

A total of 4,571 councils, known as union councils, which are responsible for local community development and public welfare, are being contested in phases. In the first phase in June, elections were held for 204 councils, in which 148 candidates from the governing party won and the rest were independents.

Analysts said Thursday’s election is an opportunity for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s ruling Awami League party to consolidate its position ahead of the next general election, scheduled for 2023. His party won the last two general elections, in 2014 and 2018, by landslides, which were beset with allegations of vote rigging and rigging.

From 1991, when Bangladesh returned to a democratic system, to the 2008 election, Hasina and her staunch, former prime minister Khaleda Zia of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party have ruled the country in turn.

Hasina’s landslide victory in 2008 was the most recent national election that was acknowledged as free and fair and Zia’s party has boycotted several elections since then.

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