DHAKA - Sheikh Hasina was sworn in for a third spell as Bangladesh’s prime minister on Sunday after a deadly general election boycotted by the opposition amid an ongoing political crisis.
President Abdul Hamid administered the oath at the presidential palace in the capital in a ceremony broadcast live on television channels, one week after the polls condemned by the opposition as a farce.
“I am, Sheikh Hasina, taking oath... that I will discharge my duties faithfully as the prime minister of the government as per the law,” Hasina said, prompting applause during the ceremony which included recitations from the Holy Quran.
Hasina’s 48 cabinet colleagues were also sworn into office during the ceremony attended by about 1,000 government and top military officials, along with foreign diplomats and newly elected members of parliament. Hasina has insisted her walkover win in the January 5 polls was legitimate, despite a boycott by the opposition and its allies and the deadliest election violence in the country’s history. Hasina’s Awami League party won nearly 80 percent of the seats, which should allow her to rule for another five years. But analysts say the new government could be short-lived since Hasina faces a deepening political crisis and mounting calls for new polls from the international community and the opposition.
The opposition, led by two-time former prime minister and arch enemy Khaleda Zia, has since Wednesday called for a blockade of roads, rail and waterways to try to topple the government. Zia, who has been under de facto house arrest, was allowed to leave her home in Dhaka late Saturday for the first time in more than two weeks.
She was permitted to attend a meeting at her office but it is unclear if her house arrest, which authorities have officially denied, has been completely lifted. Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party dismissed the new government as a farce just like the “farcical elections”. “All the ministers are either from the Awami League or its allies,” senior party official Mahbubur Rahman said.
Sunday’s ceremony comes after the country’s newly elected lawmakers were sworn in on Thursday.
A total of 153 Awami League members or allies were elected unopposed ahead of polling day as a result of the opposition boycott, imposed over Hasina’s decision to change the electoral system.
Hasina, who first came to power in 1996 and then thrashed Zia in a 2008 comeback, has vowed to take a tough stand to bring stability. Crippling opposition protests, strikes and transport blockades have left around 180 people dead since October, when the opposition first called for the polls to be halted, and cost an estimated $4 billion in lost production. “We will take a hardline stand as it is required to ensure the safety of public and properties,” said Hasina, daughter of the country’s independence hero Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, on Friday.
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 detainees.
At least 26 people were killed during the election, making it the bloodiest vote in Bangladesh’s history, while hundreds of opposition supporters torched or trashed polling stations. Zia has demanded new elections be held under a neutral government headed by a caretaker leader, fearing poll rigging. The United States has led international pressure for a swift re-run of the elections to include all of the major parties, brushing aside Hasina’s insistence that her victory was legitimate. The political standoff will likely stoke instability after the deadliest year of unrest since Bangladesh broke free from Pakistan in 1971, according to experts. The former East Pakistan is the world’s eighth most populous nation but also one of the poorest. The turmoil will also likely undermine efforts to improve the lot of its population of 154 million - a third of whom live below the poverty line.