Bangladesh opposition alliance to contest polls 'to rescue democracy'

File photo of Sheikh Hasina. Photograph:( AFP )

Reuters Dhaka, Bangladesh Nov 11, 2018, 01.48 PM (IST)

A group of opposition parties in Bangladesh, including the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), said on Sunday it plans to contest the December 23 general election, despite the ruling party last week rejecting a series of its demands.

The Jatiya Oikyafront, a 20-party alliance led by 81-year-old Dr Kamal Hossain, had, in particular, wanted a caretaker government to take over in the weeks heading into the polls. The BNP says a caretaker government is essential for free and fair elections, but the ruling Awami League says the demand is unconstitutional.

The BNP, which is in disarray following the jailing of its chief, former prime minister Khaleda Zia, on corruption charges, had also pressed for a caretaker government at the 2014 election and boycotted it after the demand was not met. The last election was marred by deadly violence and shunned by international observers as flawed.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government is seeking to be reelected for a third successive term.

“With the aim of rescuing democracy and a continuation of the movement to sustain a democratic process, Jatiya Oikyafront decided to participate in the election," said Hossain in a statement, following days of deliberations with alliance members.

Hasina’s government has won widespread global plaudits for letting in hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled persecution in Myanmar, but its critics have decried Hasina’s increasingly authoritarian rule. In particular, they have attacked her for the government’s heavy-handed handling of student protests this year and its crackdown on free speech.

While announcing the election date on Thursday, KM Nurul Huda, the head of Bangladesh’s Election Commission, urged all parties to participate in the election "to make it meaningful”.

Hasina and Khaleda, who between them have ruled Bangladesh for decades, are bitter rivals and the BNP says its leader has been jailed on trumped-up charges to keep her out of politics.