12:00 AM, December 30, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 30, 2008

Landslide mandate

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Star Report

Hasina flashes V-sign after casting vote.Photo: STAR

The Awami League-led grand alliance has swept back to power after seven years out of office with a stunning landslide victory in an environment of free and fair elections that clearly showed the people's verdict for a change and has consigned the BNP-led four-party alliance to the political wilderness.
The grand alliance has clinched two-thirds majority with 261 seats compared to its archrival BNP-led four-party alliance's 30, down from 217 in 2001.
Jamaat-e-Islami, the BNP's key ally in the four-party alliance, has seen its once-proud seat tally plummet from 17 in 2001 to a humiliating two, in what appears to be a wholesale rejection of the party by the voters.
The Election Commission Secretariat has so far announced unofficial results of 295 constituencies. The official results will be published as a gazette.
EC Secretary Humayun Kabir said election results for the constituencies of hill districts Rangamati and Bandarban did not reach the EC Secretariat as of 10:00am today.
Results of Chittagong-16 constituency also could not reach the secretariat because of delay in consolidating the results from a few polling centres.
The results will be announced by this evening, Humayun said.
Polling was suspended at a polling station of Noakhali-3 constituency. The EC has not yet decided whether to hold re-polling in the centre because its result will not have any effect on the present standings.
The results clearly indicate that the voters, especially the young and first-time voters, were hungry for the change that the BNP-led alliance was simply incapable of delivering.
The four-party alliance offered few new ideas to the voters and appeared to have learnt nothing from its two years on the sidelines during which many of its senior leaders were incarcerated on corruption charges.
The defeat of the four-party alliance can be seen as the majesty of the public verdict against the unprecedented corruption and tyranny that marked its five-year rule.
While in power, the BNP-led alliance failed to address a series of vital issues, including soaring prices of essential commodities and power generation, instead focusing on consolidating all power in its hands and misusing the same for personal and political gain.
In its lacklustre campaigning around the country in advance of yesterday's polls, the four-party alliance failed to unveil a compelling vision to the voters for dealing with crucial issues in the future.
The four-party alliance candidates, and in particular BNP chief and ex-prime minister Khaleda Zia, paid scant attention to the needs and aspirations of the voters, instead conducting a negative campaign based on identity politics.
Khaleda repeatedly invoked Islam, requesting that the voters vote BNP into power to "save Islam" and "save the country". It is believed that this kind of negativity and cynicism is what has been punished by the voters.
The near wipe-out of Jamaat in its worst election showing since independence also lends credence to the notion that the voters, although religiously observant themselves, have totally rejected the misuse of religion for political purposes.
There is much conjecture that the victory of the grand alliance was the outcome of participation of the first-time voters, who turned out in record numbers, and women voters, who outnumbered the men.
A key to the elections was information, both about the corruption of major candidates and parties, that had come to light due to media reports and the anti-corruption campaign of the past two years, and also about the individual candidates that was mandated by the election laws and made available to the voters by the Election Commission (EC), media, and civil society organisations.
It was an experience never seen before in independent Bangladesh: A record number of voters -- 85 percent -- marched up to polling centres and waited for hours to cast their votes. Defying the winter chill in rural areas, men and women, young and old, some on crutches or in wheelchairs, started queuing up patiently for the opportunity to pick their representatives.
Young voters came out in droves, their eyes full of excitement, looking for their serial numbers, clearly eager to vote for the first time. Election buntings hanging from strings festooned the roads and walkways and brought a festive edge to the day.
The scenes were more of the same throughout the day as the elections to the ninth parliament finally ended after a gap of seven years from the eighth.
Held under tight security, this year's polls saw none of the deadly unrest that forced the January 22, 2007 vote to be cancelled and an army-backed caretaker government to take control.
Political rivals shuttered their sharp ideological divides, at least for a day, and smiled at each other, helping voters to identify their serial numbers.
Voters, rather than behaving in herd mentality, proudly swung their votes, saying they looked at candidate profiles rather than symbols. Reports of violence were few and far between and that too with less intensity than in the past. Fake voting was almost absent.
It seemed the long-toiling work on anti-corruption and political reforms had paid off -- at least to some extent.
The voters walked to the polling centres as traffic was ordered off the roads.
The distinctly festive mood of the election could not be marred by the voting mismanagement that was visible in some polling centres in the capital city and elsewhere.
Some voters missed the excitement as they failed to find their voter numbers or respective polling booths. This prompted some people to stage peaceful protests in the capital and elsewhere, demanding the EC arrange voter numbers and polling booths for them.
There had been some reports of people splurging hard cash in a bid to buy voters in various parts of the country.
Yet, with a record number of first-time voters who represent 33 percent of the 8.10 crore voting population, the mood on Election Day was upbeat from early morning.
A bulk number of votes were apparently cast by noon. "Out of 500 voters in this booth, around 350 votes had already been cast by 12.30pm," said a polling agent at Ispahani Girls School in Moghbazar.
Women made an overwhelming presence at the polling centres. The number of women voters stands at 4.12 crore, which is more than half of the total voters.
Unlike the past elections, the 2008 polls included the provision of "No Vote" allowing voters to express their no-confidence in candidates on ballot papers. The percentage of no-vote casters appeared low.
Of such votes, many were first-time voters who were unsatisfied with their choice of candidates.

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