DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Newly re-elected Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina opened Parliament on Wednesday by assuring the opposition that she will allow it to criticize her.
Hasina is beginning a third consecutive five-year term after winning a massive victory in Dec. 30 elections.
She said her government would not create obstacles to criticism by the opposition amid concerns that she could become increasingly authoritarian because of her overwhelming majority.
The main opposition alliance received only seven of the 300 seats in Parliament. All seven lawmakers are refraining from taking their oaths to protest the election results and were absent as Parliament opened Wednesday. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, Hasina’s archrival, is the main partner of the alliance.
More than a dozen people were killed in election-related violence on the day of the polls, and the election campaign was undermined by allegations of arrests and the jailing of thousands of Hasina’s opponents. Authorities said the arrests and the jailing were not politically motivated.
The opposition alliance is demanding new elections, saying the polls were rigged, an allegation the Election Commission and Hasina have rejected.
Hasina said Wednesday she hopes the opposition will be treated properly in Parliament.
“I can give assurance that our opposition parties will be able to criticize us enough. We won’t create any obstacle,” she said.
She urged lawmakers to work for a peaceful country that is free from terrorism, drugs and corruption.
“We have been able to continue the democratic process after overcoming many obstacles. All took part in the election spontaneously. This Parliament has been established through a successful election,” she said.
Zia has been in jail since February last year on corruption charges and was deemed ineligible to run for office because of the conviction, which her supporters say was politically motivated.
The Election Commission and other departments have been accused of overlooking complaints of irregularities by the opposition. Ahead of the election, a new digital security law was enacted that raised concerns it would curb speech and media freedoms.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has urged an independent investigation into the alleged irregularities while the U.S., the EU and the U.N. all expressed concerns.