DHAKA, Bangladesh – Bangladesh’s main opposition party announced Sunday, November 11, it would not boycott next month’s general election and would challenge Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the polls, despite its leader being in jail.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party said it would contest the December 23 election but has expressed fears it will not be democratic and has threatened protests.
The BNP boycotted the 2014 election over fears it would be rigged, allowing Hasina to walk into a second term unchallenged.
The prime minister’s tenure has been marred by a crackdown on dissent in the South Asian democracy of 160 million.
The opposition says thousands of its activists have been detained in recent months, depriving it of a grassroots presence necessary to fight any polls.
BNP veteran leader Khaleda Zia remains behind bars, her prison sentence doubled last month to ten years for corruption charges her supporters say were politically motivated.
The two-term prime minister has virtually no time to appeal her sentence, and will almost certainly be banned from contesting the election against her arch-rival Hasina.
The opposition has said the charges against Zia, and other party activists, were deliberately planned by Hasina’s increasingly authoritarian government.
Zia’s exiled son and heir apparent, Tarique Rahman, will not be able to contest the polls after being sentenced to life in prison last month over a 2004 grenade attack at Hasina’s rally. He lives in exile.
The arrest of activists and prominent dissidents including student leaders and a top photographer have also cast a shadow over the buildup to the vote.
BNP senior leader Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain said the decision to contest the election was not easy given their circumstances.
“We are going to the polls as part of a democratic struggle,” he told Agence France-Presse.
The opposition has formed an alliance with other parties, including Islamist outfits.
Its main ally, the Jamaat-e-Islami, has been banned from contesting the election.
But its leaders are expected to take part running on BNP tickets in the Muslim-majority country.
The opposition wants the election delayed by a month to ensure there is adequate time to campaign, but Bangladesh’s election commission has not responded to their request.
The deputy head of Hasina’s Awami League, Obaidul Quader, has said the ruling party has no issue deferring the poll if the decision is made.
But early this month Hasina rejected a request from BNP and its allies to dissolve parliament and let a neutral caretaker government organise the election.
It had also asked for Zia to be released so she could run.
The rivalry between Hasina and Zia dates back 30 years. The pair were briefly allies in the late 1980s as they joined forces to oust a military dictator from power.
They alternated throughout the prime minister’s office in the 1990s and 2000s, but their relationship soured and Zia decided to boycott the 2014 election.
Analysts had warned the BNP had little choice but to run next month or risk losing its credibility as a viable political force in Bangladesh. – Rappler.com