Sheikh Hasina-led alliance to boycott Bangladesh polls
* Former prime minister demands resignation of interim president, new poll schedule
* Confirms countrywide protest and transport blockades for later this week
DHAKA: Former Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina announced on Wednesday that her Awami League, which leads a powerful 14-party alliance, would boycott the country’s Jan 22 general elections because the interim government had failed to ensure that voting would be free and fair.
Addressing a news conference, she said: “We have agreed not to participate in the election because the country’s interim government in charge of holding a free and fair election has failed to create a congenial election atmosphere.
“Besides the election boycott, we will now launch a bigger movement to oust Iajuddin from the post of caretaker chief.”
The country has been run by a caretaker government, headed by President Iajuddin Ahmed, since Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chief Begum Khaleda Zia ended her five-year term as prime minister last October.
Accusing Iajuddin of favouring Khaleda, Hasina demanded that he step aside, while calling for the appointment of a new interim chief, as well as an updated and corrected voters’ list and a new election schedule.
She also denounced the Election Commission saying that “biased and dishonest” officials could not be trusted to hold a free and impartial election.
“They must be removed while corrupt and partisan civil officials be kept off duty during the polls.”
Referring to Bangladesh’s constitutional stipulation that the interim authority hold new elections within three months, unless the Supreme Court grants an extension, Hasina said that people would take responsibility to protect the constitution and preserve democracy. However, “they want to get rid of a corrupt and biased administration first,” she added, in an apparent hint that she could re-enter the election race should her demands be met.
She also reaffirmed plans to stage a countrywide protest on Jan 5, followed by transport blockades on Jan 7 and 8.
Acting Chief Election Commissioner Mahfuzur Rahman confirmed that Hasina’s alliance had formally conveyed its decision to boycott the election. “But we will continue our work for holding the polls on the due date,” he told reporters.
Nazmul Huda, a senior BNP leader and former minister, slammed Hasina’s decision, saying that the “Awami League had smelt a massive defeat in the election. So they have made a face-saving retreat”.
Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, secretary-general of Jamaat-e-Islami, a BNP ally, urged the interim authority to deal with attempts to “foil the election and create lawlessness with heavy hands”.
Meanwhile, neighbouring India said that the election machinery in Bangladesh should inspire confidence.
“It is our hope that the people of Bangladesh will be able to elect a government of their own choice in a free, fair credible and democratic election,” an Indian foreign ministry spokesman said in response to questions about Hasina’s boycott decision.
At least 45 people have been killed and hundreds injured in political violence since the interim government took over to steer the country to the polls. reuters