Post-election Violence Follows Historic Bangladeshi Poll

The December 29 elections in Bangladesh have been reported as free, fair and peaceful by international and domestic observer groups including the Asian Network for Free and Fair Elections (ANFREL) and the European Union. The victory of the Awami League, which in a landslide win secured 262 seats with its allies, marks the end of nearly two years under a state of emergency declared after an army takeover. Odhikar, a Bangladeshi human rights group, observed 56 constituencies (560 polling stations) around the country on Election Day and described a festive atmosphere with a high turnout of younger voters, first-time voters, and women voters.

However, allegations of fraud and irregularities by the losing side fueled over 50 incidents of violence following the election, according to news reports. Political violence is all too common in Bangladesh, particularly around elections, and without adequate mechanisms for filing and resolving election complaints, post-election violence is always a risk. The challenge will be to ensure that after the immediate flare-ups are contained, future political disputes are resolved peacefully and in accordance with constitutionally mandated election dispute resolution mechanisms. To this end, monitoring violence and tension levels on election day and in the post election period could be helpful, as it was during the campaign period.

Odhikar partnered with IFES to conduct violence monitoring during the campaign period. While observing 40 districts at risk for violence between December 14 and 28, , reported 110 incidents of violence ranging from minor property damage to large clashes between party supporters at rallies in which 336 people were wounded.

"Despite the state of emergency and heightened security across the country, there were still many incidents of campaign violence in the monitored districts," remarks IFES Research Officer Lisa Kammerud, who provided technical assistance to Odhikar.

The Districts of Pabna, Cox's Bazar, Kishorgonj, Brahmanbaria and Barisal had the most incidents.

The observation also showed that the issue can be ameliorated if civil society, political parties and the government work together. "Analysis of trends… in both more peaceful and more violent districts shows that actions by both political party leaders and security officials can have a positive impact," writes Odhikar in its 2nd Report on Election Violence During the Campaign Period.

Odhikar monitors were trained in the IFES Election Violence Education and Resolution (EVER) methodology, which emphasizes verification of information and public reporting of findings to fuel mitigation efforts. The IFES and Odhikar project was supported by The Asia Foundation and DFID.