Zia wins two-thirds majority in Bangladesh elections

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Khaleda Zia began consultations yesterday to form a new government in Bangladesh after her four-party alliance gained a two-thirds majority in parliamentary elections.

Her defeated rival, the former prime minister Sheikh Hasina, said the tallies of Monday's balloting were "fake and manipulated". She demanded fresh elections. Foreign observers said, however, that the election – supervised by a neutral caretaker administration – was free and fair.

Based on unofficial results, the Election Commission announced yesterday that Mrs Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party and allies had won 202 seats of the 283 where voting was completed. Results from 16 seats have been held up because votes still have to be cast at 130 centres where polling was postponed because of violence. On election day, six people were killed and about 100 injured. The polling must be completed by 15 October, the deadline for parliament to approve a new prime minister.

That did not stop Mrs Zia from meeting with aides and leaders of her allied, Islamic fundamentalist parties, to discuss cabinet seats. "We have a clear mandate to form a new government and we are making preparations," Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, a close aide to Mrs Zia, said yesterday.

Claiming victory, Mrs Zia told a news conference that religion would not play a part in her administration. Bangladesh, which is 88 per cent Muslim, is governed by secular laws – something that two of the Islamic fundamentalist parties allied with Mrs Zia want to change.

Mrs Hasina's Awami League trailed with 62 seats, a big drop from the 146 she won in 1996 elections.

Mrs Zia served as prime minister in 1991, becoming the first woman to hold the post. But she was unable to complete her five-year term because strikes led by Mrs Hasina forced new elections. (AP)