Bangladesh’s ex-military ruler H.M. Ershad was whisked away from his home by security forces early on Friday and admitted to a military hospital in Dhaka, days after the 83-year-old former dictator’s dramatic decision to boycott next month’s general elections.
The former president was only being taken for a check-up, said a top official of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB).
Speculation was rife that Mr. Ershad, whose Jatiya Party is a key ally of the Awami League-led grand alliance, was “detained” as part of the government’s efforts to force him to participate in the January 5 polls.
However, RAB media wing Director Habibur Rahman told Bdnews24 that Mr. Ershad was at home when he fell sick. “The personnel guarding his residence took him to the hospital after they were told of his feeling sick.”
Witnesses said a joint team of police and RAB entered the private “President’s Park” residence and virtually whisked him to an SUV, fuelling speculation that Mr. Ershad was arrested.
Activists of Jatiya Party scuffled with security personnel who took Mr. Ershad to the Combined Military Hospital, where he was admitted.
TV footages showed a grim-faced Mr. Ershad was sitting on the backseat of the SUV wearing a red sweater as the convoy of police and RAB vans drove off.
“It is mysterious, I was with him (Mr. Ershad) until the evening...he was in good health and also took part in his routine physical exercise,” Mr. Ershad’s press secretary Sunil Subho Roy told reporters.
The former military ruler, who was ousted in a mass upsurge in 1990 after nine years of rule, returned to limelight earlier this month when he announced his party would stay way from the polls due to lack of a proper atmosphere.
Mr. Ershad’s dramatic shift compounded the problems the interim government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at a time when the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party has also announced it will boycott the polls.
His hospitalisation at the secured facility came amid a desperate effort by the Awami League to get the Jatiya Party, wracked with infighting and factional clashes, back to polls if required under the leadership of his wife Raushan, currently a Minister in the poll time multi-party cabinet.
Hours after his hospitalisation, Mr. Ershad wrote to the Election Commission conveying his decision to stay off the polls and requesting it not to grant the party’s “plough” symbol to anyone.
On December 5, Mr. Ershad had threatened to kill himself after security forces surrounded his residence. “I have loaded four pistols...I told the government I will kill myself if they play any tricks with me. I will die before the RAB or the police can lay a finger on me,” he had said.