Over 40,000 polling centres across the country opened their doors to roughly104 million voters at 8am on Sunday. The polling booths will close at 4pm.
Voters will have to turn off their mobile phones before entering the centres.
At least 21.5 million young voters between 18 and 28 years have entered the electoral roll since 2008, making them a substantial demographic that could sway the outcome.
Electronic voting machines (EVMs) are being used at the national election for the first time in six constituencies.
Results for the constituencies where EVMs will be put to use are likely to be released a few hours after the polls close. Results for the other constituencies are likely to trickle in over the course of Sunday night and Monday morning.
Thirty-nine political parties registered with the Election Commission are contesting in the ballot.
The Awami League government led by Sheikh Hasina is seeking an unprecedented third successive term in power.
The 10th parliamentary election in 2014 was boycotted by the BNP, the largest opposition party, and several others.
The BNP has joined in the race this time in a bid to snap Hasina’s run, but is without party chief and three-time former prime minister Khaleda Zia, who has been in prison since February on corruption charges.
The Election Commission has clamped several curbs in order to maintain order and has deployed over 700,000 security personnel and as many election officials for the polls. The figure includes 500,000 army personnel.
Motor vehicles will stay off the road. The authorities have also blocked mobile phone internet services
The campaign leading up to the election was marred by violence as opposition leaders complained that their candidates were being attacked, harassed and intimidated by Awami League supporters and law enforcers.
The Awami League, for its part, said the opposition parties also played their part in the violence and are trying to discredit the polls. At least four supporters of the ruling party candidates have lost their lives to election violence blamed on the BNP.
The ruling party also fears the coalition of the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami may unleash large-scale violence during the election “like it did during the campaign and on the election eve”.
The BNP suspects that the government will rig the vote with the help of the bureaucracy. Alleging attacks and intimidation of their candidates and supporters, it says the election is “going to be meaningless”.
The voters, wearing warm clothes on the winter morning, started queuing up in front of the voting booths at the polling stations despite the fears of violence and doubts over fairness of the election.
HASINA EYES FOURTH TERM
The Awami League chief is seeking a record fourth term in office.
The daughter of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has promised to continue the development work if she returns to office.
Urging caution over possibilities of another BNP boycott, she said, “I know that the people of Bangladesh will vote for us. We have all felt the trust they have vested in us. Therefore, we must ensure that the credibility of the elections is not questioned. I’d like all the activists and candidates from our party and the Grand Alliance to be patient.”
In response to criticism that Hasina resorted to intimidation to suppress the opposition with the help of administration and law enforcers, her son Sajeeb Wazed Joy earlier said police would “definitely hunt the killers fielded as election candidates” by the BNP.
WON’T BOYCOTT: DR KAMAL
The BNP, which had been saying it would not contest any elections with Hasina in power, finally decided to join the polls after forging an alliance with Gono Forum chief Dr Kamal Hossain.
Dr Kamal, a former leader of the Awami League and a member of Bangabandhu’s cabinet, has nominated candidates from his party, who are contesting in the election with the BNP’s paddy sheaf symbol.
The veteran lawyer, however, is not a candidate himself and had earlier said he wished to hold no government post, but see “democracy restored”.
Urging the people to secure their right to vote on the election day, the Jatiya Oikya Front chief brushed aside Hasina’s suspicion that the BNP may again stay away from election.
“My clear response to this is: we will not step away from this on our own,” he said.