The ruling Bangladesh Awami League has further bolstered its parliamentary strength by making impressive gains in this week's by-elections. The Awami won eight seats out of 15, and its main rivals the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jatiya Party of former dictator General Hussain Mohammad Ershad bagged three seats each. The independents won one. Thursday's by-elections were called after the seats were vacated by senior leaders of the three main parties who won from more than one constituency in the parliamentary polls held last June. Among those who won more than one seat were former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia, Ershad and present Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed. Begum Zia and Ershad each got five seats and Ms Sheikh Hasina won three. Independent election monitors said the elections were 'overall free, fair and peaceful'. Some minor complaints were being investigated. The by-election results clearly show that the Awami League, within two months of its coming to power, has succeeded in expanding its support base and has made inroads into the territories which were known to be opposition strongholds. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jatiya Party have lost three and two seats respectively to the Awami League. In the latest count the League now has 177 seats in the 330-member Parliament followed by the Nationalists with 113 and the Jatiya Party with 31 seats. The fundamentalist Jamat-e-Islami has only two MPs. The Nationalists have already rejected the outcome, alleging massive vote rigging. A similar by-election result two years ago set the stage for prolonged unrest that finally forced the resignation of then-premier Begum Zia last March.