By Heather Chen, Vedika Sud and Manveena Suri, CNN
(CNN) — Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has secured a fourth consecutive term in office, according to the country’s electoral commission, maintaining her title as the world’s longest serving female head of government in an election boycotted by the main opposition party.
Bangladesh, home to 170 million people, is the first country in South Asia this year to head to the polls. But turnout was low, with only 40% of approximately 120 million eligible voters taking part, Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal said at a polling briefing early on Sunday.
The country had seen political unrest leading to Sunday’s general election. Polling booths were set ablaze on the eve of the vote, with four people, including two children, killed in a train fire, reported Reuters.
The country is also beset by economic problems, requiring a nearly $5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund last year.
Hasina, in power since 2009, cast her vote in the capital Dhaka, and her win marks a fifth overall victory for her Awami League-led alliance.
“Our country is a sovereign and independent country – maybe we’re small but we have a big population,” she told reporters at a press conference in Dhaka. “We have established people’s democratic rights and also the right to a better life. That is our main aim.”
“I want to make sure that democracy should continue in this country,” she continued, adding that “without democracy, you cannot make any development.”
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party boycotted the elections after Hasina denied calls to resign and let a neutral caretaker government run the election.
Human rights organizations have warned that Hasina and her government are headed towards a one-party system, as critics expressed concerns over increased reports of political violence and voter intimidation.
Economic concerns also loom over the nation, which last month was told to tighten its monetary policy and have greater exchange rate flexibility to help contain high inflation by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
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With previous reporting from CNN’s Rhea Mogul. CNN’s Salman Saeed, Sania Farooqui, and Heather Law contributed reporting.