DHAKA - Bangladesh’s newly-elected lawmakers took their parliamentary oath on Thursday after an election condemned by critics as a farce and with feuding political leaders still locked in a deadly confrontation.
Led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, members of parliament from the ruling Awami League and lawmakers from her allies were sworn in, parliament’s spokesman Joynal Abedin told AFP.
“Of the 300 lawmakers, 284 have taken the oath today. Others will be sworn in later,” Abedin said.
The Awami League won nearly 80 per cent of the seats in Sunday’s walkover parliamentary polls, which were boycotted by the opposition and hit by the deadliest election violence in the country’s history.
Analysts say the new assembly could be short-lived since Hasina faces a worsening political crisis and mounting calls for new polls from the international community and the opposition.
The opposition, led by two-times former prime minister Khaleda Zia who is under de facto house arrest, called for a non-stop blockade of roads, rail and waterways from Wednesday to topple the government.
The blockade was only partially imposed in the capital, with many activists behind bars after a crackdown by security forces in the weeks before Sunday’s election.
Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) described the weekend vote as a farce and the United States said it lacked credibility.
A total of 153 Awami League members or allies were elected unopposed ahead of polling day as a result of an opposition boycott, imposed over Hasina’s decision to change the electoral system.
Hasina, daughter of the country’s independence hero Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was later elected the leader of parliament and would form a government by Sunday, her spokesman Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury told AFP.
“Her cabinet will take oath at 3.30pm Sunday,” he added.
Hasina has vowed to bring stability after crippling opposition protests that have left around 180 dead since October.
At least 26 people were killed during the election, making it the bloodiest vote in Bangladesh’s 43-year history, while opposition supporters torched or trashed hundreds of polling stations.
After two weeks confined to her home, security was relaxed outside Zia’s house on Wednesday night but it was unclear whether she would be allowed to leave.
New York-based group Human Rights Watch Thursday accused the government of arbitrary arrests of “perhaps hundreds of” opposition party members and said the crackdown continued even after the elections
“While in some cases the government has acted appropriately to stop violence by some opposition forces, this spate of arrests is part of a pattern of weakening critics, limiting dissent, and consolidating ruling party power,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director.
“The Awami League claims that it is the leading democratic party in Bangladesh, but there is nothing democratic about this kind of widespread crackdown on critics.”
With the government broadening the crackdown on the opposition after the polls, the BNP’s lawyer Sanaullah Mia said hundreds of BNP officials and activists including its deputy chief have gone into hiding to avoid arrest.
“Some 7,000 BNP activists including at least 30 senior leaders have been arrested in the past couple of months. Others are on the run to avoid detention. The whole country has turned into a huge jail,” Mia told AFP.
Police have confirmed the arrest of more than 1,000 opposition activists in recent weeks, stressing that there have been specific charges against each of the detainee.
Zia has said she is willing to hold talks with her bitter rival Hasina, but demanded the polls be first declared null and void and new elections held under a neutral government headed by a caretaker leader.
Washington has led international pressure for a swift re-run of the elections that would include all the major parties, brushing aside Hasina’s insistence her victory was legitimate.
The United States called for a vote that would “credibly express the will” of the people and asked the parties “to engage in immediate dialogue to find a way to hold as soon as possible elections that are free, fair, peaceful, and credible”.
UN leader Ban Ki-moon urged the two parties “to resume meaningful dialogue” urgently to create “an inclusive political process”.