Right­wing alliance set for landslide win in Bangladesh parliament

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The Independent Online

An alliance of rightist and fundamentalist Islamic parties headed by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia appeared set for a landslide win in parliamentary elections in Bangladesh, ending a campaign that killed more than 160 people.

Zia' s Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the main constituent of the four­party grouping, had won 186 of the 250 seats for which unofficial results were reported by state television Tuesday. The Awami League of former prime minister Sheikh Hasina, trailed behind with 35 seats.

The Islamic fundamentalist Jamaat­e­Islami took 15 seats. The rest were shared by smaller parties.

Complete results were expected by Wednesday. Elections to the 300­seat parliament were held Monday for 299 seats after the death of one candidate. Voting for the remaining seat was to be held later.

The outcome of the voting is not expected to end the political violence and general strikes that have plagued this Muslim­majority South Asian nation and sapped its economy. Last year strikes cost the country dlrs 3.3 billion ­ 60 percent of its annual export income ­ in lost production and export.

Political violence is common in Bangladesh, plagued by political assassinations, coups and street fighting between political party supporters.

Violence forced the postponement of balloting in 130 of the 30,000 voting centers that were guarded by half a million troops and police. At least five people were killed and 300 were injured in scattered violence during the voting. That raised the toll to 161 dead and 2,600 injured since the campaign began July 15.

There was no immediate reaction available from Hasina's and Zia's parties. Hasina was the country's latest prime minister until July 15, when she transferred power to a caretaker administration to oversee the polls. She was the first Bangladeshi leader to finish a term.

Analysts credited Hasina's government for achieving self sufficiency in food, reduction of poverty and ending two decades of insurgency by ethnic Chakma tribespeople in the country's southeastern Chittagong Hill Tracts.

"The results have been surprising," said Matiur Rahman, editor of Dhaka's Prothom Alo newspaper.

Most predicted a close fight between the two most powerful women in Muslim­majority Bangladesh, a neighbor of India and Myanmar.

The voting was supervised by a caretaker administration that took power July 15, when Hasina became the first Bangladeshi leader to complete a five year term in office.

Monday's elections were the fourth since the return of democracy in 1990, when Hasina and Zia had joined forces to oust military ruler Hossain Mohammad Ershad, who was also a candidate Monday.

The voting was monitored by 300 foreign observers sent by the United Nations and nearly 200,000 local, independent observers.