Bangladesh is holding general elections on Sunday, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina set to win a fourth straight term and the fifth overall for her Awami League-led alliance, despite overseeing an economy that required an international bailout last year.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of ailing former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia is boycotting the polls after Hasina denied its demand to resign and let a caretaker government run the elections.
Women make up almost half of the nearly 120 million eligible voters. First-time voters number about 15 million.
Nearly 2,000 candidates overall are vying for the 300 directly elected parliament seats, with a record high of 5.1 percent of women candidates.
There are 436 independent candidates in the race, the most since 2001. The BNP says the Awami League has propped up “dummy” candidates to try to make the election look credible, a claim the ruling party denies.
Rights groups have accused the government of targeting opposition leaders and supporters, while Hasina and the Awami League have repeatedly condemned the BNP as troublemakers set on sabotaging the elections.
Nearly 800,000 police, paramilitary and police auxiliaries will guard the polls on election day. Officials of the army, navy and air force have also been deployed.
As many as 127 foreign observers will track the election process to assess its fairness, while 59 journalists from abroad have been accredited.
Hasina has been credited with turning around the $416bn economy and its massive garments industry, while also winning international praise for sheltering nearly a million Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in neighbouring Myanmar.
But in recent months, the economy, once among the world’s fastest growing, was rocked by violent protests after a jump in the cost of living, as Bangladesh struggles to pay for costly energy imports amid depleting dollar reserves.