Haroon Habib

Elections on schedule, says Election Commission

DHAKA: The grand political alliance in Bangladesh led by Sheikh Hasina has decided to boycott the parliamentary elections set for January 22, alleging that the electoral process under the caretaker Government is going to be "stage-managed."

"We have decided not to participate in stage-managed elections ... we cannot give legitimacy to such an election being held without a legitimate voters' list," Ms Hasina, former Prime Minister and president of the Awami League, said while announcing the alliance's decision at a press conference here on Wednesday.

Flanked by top leaders of the alliance, including Jatiya Party chairman H. M. Ershad and Liberal Democratic Party president Badrudouzza Chowdhury, she put forth a charter of demands including the resignation of President Iajuddin Ahmed as the head of the caretaker Government, publication of the revised voters' list and re-scheduling of the polls as conditions for participating in the elections.

Nominations withdrawn

Reports reaching here said all candidates of the Awami League more than 200 for the 300-seat Parliament and of the other alliance partners withdrew their nomination papers on Wednesday, the last day for the procedure.

The grand alliance also called for a countrywide blockade for January 7-8 to press its demands. It threatened to besiege the President's House Bangabhaban indefinitely, to force him to relinquish the post of Chief Adviser to the caretaker Government.

Ms. Hasina said the alliance had given "enough time" to the President to prove his neutrality as head of the interim Government but he had failed to acquit himself. "Moreover, he has so long acted only to implement the blueprint of the BNP [Bangladesh Nationalist Party] and Jamaat-e-Islami, to bring them back to power".

The BNP-led alliance headed by Khaleda Zia said the elections would be held on schedule "even if the Awami League-led coalition refrains from the polls." Acting Chief Election Commissioner Mahfuzur Rahman said the constitutional mandate to hold elections within 90 days of the dissolution of Parliament would be honoured.

Bias alleged

After a protracted nationwide agitation since the end of October, the Hasina-led alliance had decided in the third week of December to join the polls.

However, the alliance said the President continued to remain "partisan" and the Election Commission failed to publish the corrected voters' list despite the approaching elections. "Under the current flawed voters' roll and a highly partisan interim administration, no free and fair election is possible," Ms. Hasina said. "We wanted to participate in the election but cannot join a conspiracy to legitimise a blueprint".