DHAKA - Bangladesh stared into the political abyss Monday after the ruling Awami League romped to victory in a blood-soaked election which was dismissed as a farce by the opposition.
The outcome of Sunday's poll was never in doubt after the opposition boycotted the contest, with 153 Awami League candidates or allies elected unopposed to the 300-seat parliament even before polling day.
With results in from all but eight of the 147 contested seats, the party had been confirmed as the winner in 105 while allied parties or nominal independents mopped up the other 34. A final result was expected later Monday.
But the deaths of at least 18 people in election-day violence, which saw hundreds of polling stations attacked by opposition supporters, underlined the polarisation in a country that only won its independence in 1971.
The election was also marred by poor turnout which hit a record low in the capital Dhaka.
The Daily Star called it the bloodiest election in Bangladeshi history and said the Awami League had won "a hollow victory which gives it neither a mandate nor an ethical standing to govern effectively".
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which led a boycott of 21 opposition parties, reacted by extending a general strike until Wednesday as it pressed the government to declare the election null and void.
"The country has rejected these farcical elections which were meaningless, laughable and universally unacceptable," said deputy leader Fakhrul Islam Alamgir.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina went ahead with the polls after refusing to bow to opposition demands to stand aside and allow them to be organised by a neutral caretaker administration, as in previous contests.
But the New Age daily said the consequences would be disastrous if the ruling party's "intransigence" continued.
"Besides further escalation of the political crisis and social disorder within, the country could be exposed to the wrath of the international community and agencies, and even face isolation - economic, diplomatic and otherwise."