Based on figures alone, the first general election of 2014, the 5th January parliamentary elections in Bangladesh, may seem extremely uneventful. The numbers read like those from a beleaguered autocracy: out of 300 seats, 153 were won uncontested, mostly by the ruling Awami League, while emerging results suggest that the Awami League won 105 of the remaining 147 seats, giving it a staggering majority of over three quarters (232 seats). Turnout was very low, reportedly around 20%. Yet Bangladesh is a (albeit fragile) democracy, which saw turnout of roughly 80% in the last general election in 2008, and such bizarre numbers this time round indicate the depth of the political crisis the country, and its Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, are now facing in the aftermath of this election.

The current crisis, though largely of Sheikh Hasina’s own making, is merely the latest episode in the bitter animosity between Bangladesh’s two main parties, and their leading ladies, that has defined the country’s political landscape for over two decades. The ruling Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina, daughter of its assassinated founder, and the largest opposition party, the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) led by Sheikh Hasina’s arch-nemesis Khaleda Zia, the widow of its assassinated founder, have a long history of using crippling and violent general strikes when in opposition and heavy-handed tactics when in power to wear each other down.

This time, the fight is over Sheikh Hasina’s controversial decision to abolish the practice of ‘caretaker’ governments managing general elections, instead allowing the ruling government to supervise them. The BNP has, not without some justification, seen this, along with increased intimidation of BNP activists by police, and a general tendency towards unilateral decisions by Hasina, as a prelude to a power grab. It therefore decided in December to boycott the polls, and, along with its allies, began a series of strikes and protests, many of which turned violent. As election campaigning got underway, Sheikh Hasina responded by banning BNP rallies, arresting its activists, and, according to some reports, effectively placing Khaleda Zia under house arrest.

Given the circumstances of the election, the focus has been far less on the results themselves than on what would happen next. Tensions remain high after activists from the BNP and its allies rioted both on election day and the days leading up to it, in which many polling stations were torched and dozens were killed. International observers refused to monitor the election, given its one-sided nature. Voters, who opinion polls suggest were strongly opposed to the abolition of caretaker governments and leaning slightly towards the BNP, have been deterred for the same reason, as well as the fear of violence at polling stations. The BNP seems to sense a crisis of legitimacy for Sheikh Hasina and has, unsurprisingly, extended its on-going general strike.

In addition to deep animosity towards the Awami League, there is another reason for the BNP’s unyielding position. In the recently concluded trials against alleged war criminals from Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan, many leaders of the BNP’s ally and the country’s largest Islamist party, the Jamaat Islami, were sentenced to death. While Sheikh Hasina has lauded the outcome, Khaleda Zia has promised to overturn the trials. Thus, for the Jamaat, this is a fight for its very survival, and it is likely to support, primarily through street violence, the BNP’s demand for fresh elections if it means a chance to remove the Awami League.

Yet strikes and protests alone will not, in the short-run, unseat the government. At best for the BNP, they could lead to a long drawn-out battle of attrition that could eventually bring about their desired outcome, though this would involve withstanding the Prime Minister’s use of the state’s coercive apparatus, and a potential invocation of emergency laws. Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League have so far shown little interest in compromise, declaring victory and demanding that the BNP end its alliance with the Jamaat as a precondition for any sort of negotiations. Many are now looking, in hope of a speedier and less messy resolution, towards other actors who could perhaps apply additional pressure upon Sheikh Hasina to stand down.

One contender is the army, which stepped in during a similar crisis in 2006-07. However, early indications suggest it does not have the appetite to intervene, given the divisions it has seen within its own ranks in recent years, and the furore it had to deal with when it sent both the country’s feuding matriarchs into exile for a year last time round. Another possible source of pressure is from outside. The refusal of many countries, including both Russia and the United States, to send observers was a clear snub to the way Sheikh Hasina was conducting the election. The country that matters most, however, is probably India, which, wary of the BNP’s flirtations with Islamism, is relatively close to the Awami League, and could exert more pressure on the Prime Minister. Yet, India too has so far seemed relatively quiet, generally condemning the election-day violence and arguing that the elections were a constitutional necessity via the twitter account of a foreign ministry spokesman.

Thus, after the elections, Bangladesh’s crisis remains unresolved, and its future uncertain. A clear resolution seems nowhere in sight, given the deepening polarisation between the two parties and their unwillingness, particularly that of the Awami League, to compromise. As a seething opposition prepares to dig in against, and wear down, an increasingly iron-fisted Sheikh Hasina, the country seems set to face a long and protracted period of political turmoil, which would induce further violence and increase the strain on Bangladesh’s economy and its people.