Bangladesh Set to Hold Elections on December 23 Despite Opposition’s Arrest
General elections will be held in Bangladesh on December 23. Chief Election Commissioner, K.M. Nurul Huda, announced on Thursday that all parties had an equal right to participate in the election, assuring the elections would be free and fair.
“A favourable situation prevails in the country to hold a free and fair election,” stated Huda, during his address.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will be seeking re-election while her main opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, BNP, is still contemplating whether or not to participate in the upcoming election. BNP’s leader and former Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia, is serving a ten-year prison sentence for multiple charges of corruption.
BNP boycotted the 2014 election in which, Hasina’s party, the Awami League, won a majority of parliamentary seats unopposed. Commissioner Huda urged for all parties to partake in the election and sort out political difference through talks rather than boycotts.
During the last election cycle, BNP supporters carried out violent attacks on those who had not supported the boycott, security forces, and Awami League members. Some members resorted to throwing petrol bombs at buses and rickshaws.
Opposition parties, including BNP and Jammat-e-Islami, have demanded that an interim administration should be appointed during the election to prevent corruption. Yet, constitutionally, Hasina has the right to lead the country during the election process.
Jammat-e-Islami is one of BNP’s main allies and was recently rejected from registering as an official political party.
This coalition had also requested that the election date be pushed further back but, has been denied its request. The time constraint is a large issue for BNP as candidates must file nominations by November 1. The political party is unsure of whom to appoint as the nominee.
Zia has little to no time to appeal and her son, Tarique Rehman, has been in self-imposed exile in the U.K. Rehman fled after he was sentenced to life in jail. He was found guilty for a grenade attack targeting Hasina in 2004.
The former prime minister has been in jail since February. Zia was found guilty of embezzling $252,000 in foreign donations through an orphanage set up in the name of Ziaur Rehman, her husband and former president of Bangladesh. On October 30, Zia’s prison sentence was extended to ten years after an appeal by Bangladesh’s Anti-Corruption Committee.
Zia served as prime minister for two terms and has led BNP since 1981 after her husband was assassinated in a military coup. The former prime minister still faces 30 more court cases on corruption charges.
Despite the appraise Hasina receives for her humanitarian aid to the Rohingya Muslims, Hasina’s faces great criticism of her leadership turning authoritarian.
“It's a government and a political party which believes that they are not accountable to anyone. It's a dangerous sign in a democracy,” said Asif Nazrul, a professor at Dhaka University.
This has been brought on by Hasina’s intense crackdown on free speech, with the Digital Security Act and new broadcast laws, and her administration’s violent handling of student protests.