Bangladesh 2024 Elections: Controversy, Boycotts, and Calls for Reform

Bangladesh's 2024 elections end amid allegations of malpractice and violence, casting doubts on the country's democratic integrity.

Bangladesh 2024 Elections: Controversy, Boycotts, and Calls for Reform
Top View of Police and Protestors During a March, by Shamsuddin Habib, via Pexels, October 27, 2020.


Shahad Ghannam

Legal Human Rights Researcher, 

Global Human Rights Defence

On January 7th, 2024, Bangladesh concluded its general elections, a significant event in the nation’s political landscape, marked by intense controversy and allegations of electoral malpractice. 

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, leading the socialist-secular Awami League (AL), secured her fifth term during this election that saw her party winning 74 percent of the parliamentary seats. This victory, however, was clouded by the boycott from the main opposition, the conservative-nationalist Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and low voter turnout. 

The BNP boycott ensued following the house-arrested leader, Khaleda Zia's, demands for a neutral caretaker government to oversee the elections —a demand the AL rejected, leading to increased demonstrations and violent clashes in the months leading up to the election. Additionally, the reported voter turnout of 40 percent was also criticised as being fabricated by various analysts, casting doubts on the legitimacy of the election process. 

Coming second in the electoral battle, with 21 percent of the seats, were independent candidates that reportedly had been initially rejected by the AL but asked to stand as "dummy candidates", while the current opposition, the Jatiya Party, secured the mere remaining seats. 

The political environment before the election was fraught with challenges. Historical grievances, ideological battles between the AL and BNP, and the dissolution of the caretaker government system in 2011 have led to a heightened sense of unfairness in the electoral process. This tension was compounded by a series of anti-government demonstrations and violent incidents reported during the pre-election period. The AL's decision to abolish the interim government system has been a significant point of contention, with the BNP and other opposition parties arguing that this has led to a monopolisation of power by the AL.

Human rights violations were a prominent concern ahead of the election period with over 8,000 arrests of leaders and supporters of the main opposition party, some of which had allegedly "disappeared" for periods before appearing in court. Reports also indicated a crackdown on opposition protests during the election period, with security forces allegedly using excessive force leading to numerous deaths and injuries. Human Rights Watch and other international organisations called for an independent inquiry into these abuses, including that of stifling the freedom of expression of journalists under the Digital Security Act of 2023, highlighting the repression of political opponents and critics indicative of a broader erosion of civil liberties in the country. 

The United States and the European Union have similarly expressed concerns over the fairness of the elections, with the U.S. particularly vocal about the irregularities and the violence that marred the electoral process. This international scrutiny reflects broader concerns about the direction of democracy in Bangladesh and the potential implications for the country's foreign relations and economic stability. 

Post-election, Bangladesh remains in a state of political tension, with ongoing challenges to the legitimacy of the election results. The government now faces the task of navigating these domestic and international pressures, with a significant portion of the population and the global community questioning the integrity of the electoral process. The future of Bangladesh hangs in the balance as the country grapples with these unresolved issues, with potential long-term implications for its democratic institutions and international standing.

In conclusion, the 2024 Bangladeshi elections have highlighted critical vulnerabilities in the nation's political and electoral systems. The aftermath of these elections presents an opportunity for significant political reforms to restore public trust and enhance democratic governance. How Bangladesh addresses these challenges will be crucial in determining its trajectory towards a more stable and democratic future.

Sources and further readings:

[1] Sudipto Ganguly and Ruma Paul, 'Bangladesh PM Hasina Secures Fourth Straight Term in Vote Boycotted by Main Opposition' (Reuters, 8 January 2024) (accessed 10 April 2024).

[2] Faisal Mahmud, 'Sheikh Hasina Wins Fifth Term in Bangladesh Amid Turnout Controversy' (Al Jazeera, 8 January 2024) (accessed 10 April 2024).

[3] Pearl Pandya, 'The Violent Politics of Bangladesh’s 2024 Elections' (4 January 2024) (accessed 10 April 2024).

[4] Human Rights Watch, 'Bangladesh: Repression, Security Force Abuses Discredit Elections' (11 January 2024) (accessed 10 April 2024).

[5] Kanishka Singh, 'US says Bangladesh elections were not free and fair' (Reuters, 9 January 2024) (accessed 10 April 2024).

[6] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 'Türk urges Bangladesh to change course, create conditions for truly inclusive democracy' (8 January 2024) (accessed 10 April 2024).