At least 18 people were killed in elections in Bangladesh on Jan. 5, in a bloody culmination to months of violent protest. With an opposition-led boycott of the vote leaving 153 out of 300 parliament seats uncontested, the foregone conclusion that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her ruling Awami League (AL) would remain in power translated into an abysmal voter turnout of some 20%, according to early reports. News of widespread violence on voting day kept many voters away. Though the streets of the capital city of Dhaka remained relatively quiet on Sunday, dozens of voting booths around the country were reportedly set on fire over the weekend. Other voters were simply disillusioned with the whole process. “It’s a very bad situation,” said Mohammed Abdul Salam, a businessman in Dhaka, who did not vote. “We have no choice.”
An opposition alliance, led by former PM Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh National Party (BNP), has bitterly opposed the government’s 2011 scrapping of a longstanding protocol of having a neutral caretaker government oversee general elections. Several parties called for a boycott of the Jan. 5 vote in protest, with at least 120 people killed in pre-election violence according to Human Rights Watch.