Opposition boycotting Bangladesh's general elections

Photo: Opposition boycotting Bangladesh's general elections / Politics
Nasir Uddin is not interested in voting this time around, and said he believes most voters will boycott the January 5 parliamentary elections in Bangladesh, dpa reported.

"It is a one-party show and it seems meaningless to go to the voting centre. There are no alternative choices," said the 32-year-old trader in the coastal district of Barguna.

There is an air of despondency over the elections since the opposition decided to boycott them and take to the streets instead.

There are hardly any posters, banners or other campaign materials to attract voters in the impoverished country where electioneering is generally a festive activity.

Electoral authorities have declared 154 legislators, mostly from the Awami League-led coalition of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, unopposed in their respective constituencies.

The parliament has 300 directly elected seats. The remaining 50 seats are reserved for women appointed by the elected members.

The opposition alliance led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), of former prime minister Khaleda Zia, is boycotting due to suspicions of rigging by her arch political rival, Hasina.

Zia rejected an offer by Hasina to join an all-party administration to oversee the polls, and called for street protests against the elections. More than 500 people were killed in political violence in 2013.

A UN-mediated dialogue between the two major parties failed to resolve the deadlock over the election arrangements.

The opposition is demanding the restoration of a non-partisan caretaker administration to oversee elections, a system that Hasina scrapped in 2011.

"It is nothing but an attempt to remain in power for longer time, holding a one-sided election. We will resist the polls at any cost," said Khandaker Mahbub Uddin, an adviser to Zia.

The opposition began an indefinite nationwide strike on Wednesday, after Zia was prevented from leaving her residence to join a rally in Dhaka on December 29. Police surrounded her home and party offices.

Several opposition leaders and activists have been jailed over street vandalism.

Hasina's ruling coalition insists that the elections are necessary to meet constitutional requirements.

"The January 5 elections will take place as per schedule. No one will be able to prevent the elections," senior Awami League member Mohammad Nasim said.

He accused the BNP of contaminating the process to stop war crimes trials by a special tribunal, which began hearing cases concerning the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan in 2010. Most of the defendants are members of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, a key partner in the BNP-led alliance.

"Their concern is neither the people's welfare nor the elections," Nasim alleged. "Their intention is to halt the trials of the war crimes suspects."

Chief Election Commissioner Rakibuddin Ahmed has dispatched troops across the country to maintain order during the elections.

Hasina and Zia, who have been ruling the country by turns since it returned to a parliamentary system in 1991, have failed to devise a mechanism for credible elections.

Allegations of fraud are rife each time around, and street violence in 2006 led to a military takeover that delayed elections for nearly two years.

Political analysts say the deadlock may linger for a long time as none of the parties is willing to give ground.

"A national government could be an answer to the current political standoff in Bangladesh," said Manzoor Hasan, of the Institute of Government Studies at Brac University, but expressed doubt about whether anyone would be prepared to make the first move.

"Either the Awami League or the Bangladesh Nationalist Party wins elections in Bangladesh, but still the people are the losers," he said.

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