Bangladesh voted amid heavy security on Sunday in parliamentary elections boycotted by the main opposition, marred by violence that has killed more than 100 people and shunned by international observers as flawed.
With fewer than half of the 300 parliamentary seats being contested, the ruling Awami League is bound to sweep to victory. The impasse between the country's two dominant parties, which shows no sign of easing, undermines the poll's legitimacy and is fuelling worries of economic stagnation and further violence in the impoverished South Asian nation of 160 million.
Either Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina or BNP chief Begum Khaleda Zia has been prime minister for all but two of the past 22 years and the two are bitter rivals.
"These elections are in no way going to help resolve the stalemate we have seen in the past few months," said Iftekhar Zaman, executive director of global anti-corruption body Transparency International in Bangladesh.
"The parliament which will emerge will be one without an opposition and so there will be a very big legitimacy crisis." The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) had urged voters to stay away from an election it labelled a farce.
Turnout was also likely to be crimped by fears of violence. More than 130 polling places have been set ablaze and a polling official was killed on Saturday in northern Bangladesh.
Much of the unrest has been in rural areas. The election commission sent a text message on Saturday to voters saying their security was ensured and urging them to turn out.
"Please go to cast your vote without any fear and hassle," it said. Troops have been deployed since Dec. 26 to maintain order. The BNP is protesting against the prime minister's scrapping of the practice of having a caretaker government oversee elections.
Many of its leaders are in jail or in hiding. The Awami League says the interim government system has failed in the past. The country's $22 billion garment industry, which accounts for 80 % of its exports, has been disrupted by transportation blockades ahead of the election.
The European Union, a duty free market for nearly 60 % of Bangladesh's garment exports, has refused to send election observers, as have the United States and the Commonwealth, a grouping of 53 mainly former British colonies.
"It is unfortunate the elections are not happening in a fair way, but I am here to cast my vote because I want to exercise the right given to me by the constitution," said Mohammed Kamal Hussain, a 52-year-old businessman who cast his ballot in Dhaka.
"There should be elections again because more than anything else we don't want democracy to fail in this country."