Opposition BNP calls for 48-hour general strike in Bangladesh demanding resignation of government

Updated - January 05, 2024 07:26 am IST

Published - January 05, 2024 12:07 am IST - Dhaka

Bangladesh Nationalist Party senior leader Dr Abdul Moin Khan speaks during a protest rally to demand a free and fair election under a caretaker government in Dhaka on January 4, 2024, ahead of Bangladesh’s upcoming general election on January 7, 2024.

Bangladesh Nationalist Party senior leader Dr Abdul Moin Khan speaks during a protest rally to demand a free and fair election under a caretaker government in Dhaka on January 4, 2024, ahead of Bangladesh’s upcoming general election on January 7, 2024. | Photo Credit: AFP

Bangladesh's main opposition party BNP on Thursday called for a 48-hour nationwide general strike starting Saturday to demand the resignation of the "illegal government" of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and to protest against the January 7 general election, which it is boycotting.

Led by former prime minister Khalida Zia, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is boycotting the general election on Sunday. It is demanding an interim non-party neutral government to hold the election. The demand was rejected by the government headed by Prime Minister Hasina, who is heading the ruling Awami League.

BNP Joint Senior Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi announced the general strike at a press conference on Thursday.

"The 48-hour hartal will be observed from 6 am on January 6, to 6 am on January 8,” Rizvi said in a virtual press conference as last-minute preparations were underway for the 12th general elections.

The strike calls for the “resignation of the illegal government, establishment of a non-party neutral government and release of all party leaders and activists from prison,” he said.

The BNP aims to garner support for its non-cooperation movement against the Awami Party-led dispensation through the strike. It has urged people not to pay taxes and utility bills to press its demand for a non-party interim government for election oversight by amending the country’s Constitution.

Through the strike, the opposition party is also demanding the release of its leaders, including Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and Standing Committee Member Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury, who were arrested over charges of violence.

Police arrested thousands of opposition activists and figures after, according to Human Rights Watch, at least 16 people died and thousands were injured in the past three months, when dozens of vehicles, including buses and trucks, were set on fire in political violence.

At a previous virtual press briefing, Rizvi said the BNP would hold processions and conduct mass campaigns across the country on Friday in protest against the election.

The opposition's call for a strike came a day after authorities deployed army troops across the country to assist the civic administration in maintaining order and peace during the BNP-boycotted elections.

Since October 29, the BNP has been holding intermittent nationwide strikes and transport blockades.

The party has been saying that no election under Hasina’s government would be fair while claiming that the January 7 elections would be a sham designed to reinstall the ruling Awami League for the fourth consecutive term.

Hasina, 76, is the longest-serving prime minister of Bangladesh, with the first term from 1996 to 2001 and three consecutive terms from 2009 to 2014, 2014 to 2019 and 2019 to date.

The BNP had boycotted the 2014 election but took part in the 2018 polls, which party leaders later said was a mistake, alleging that the voting was marred with widespread rigging and intimidation.

Zia, the BNP chairperson, has been debarred from politics and is effectively under house arrest to serve a 17-year prison term handed down by a court on two graft charges.

The 79-year-old ex-prime minister is now in a hospital with multiple health issues.

Her elder son and BNP’s acting Chairman Tarique Rahman has been in self-exile since 2007 in the UK to evade several graft and criminal charges.

Several Bangladeshi courts declared him a “fugitive” as he took refuge in the UK to evade jail terms for several criminal charges, including a grenade attack on a rally of the then-opposition Awami League in 2004 in which 24 people were killed.

Rahman is heir to one of the country’s two main political dynasties and has helmed its largest opposition party since the 2018 jailing of his mother, Zia. Six years ago he was convicted in absentia of masterminding a deadly grenade attack on a campaign rally for Hasina — a charge he insists is fabricated — and sentenced to life imprisonment.

“Bangladesh is approaching another sham election,” he told said by email from London. “Participating in an election under Hasina, against the aspirations of the Bangladeshi people, would undermine the sacrifices of those who fought for democracy.”

Hasina narrowly escaped the attack, which also wounded some 500 of her party leaders, activists and supporters.

Bangladesh has deployed armed forces to assist the administration in holding the upcoming national election in a free, fair, and peaceful manner.

The U.S. and other major Western countries called for dialogue between the ruling Awami League and particularly with the BNP to ensure an inclusive and credible election, which saw no headway due to reluctance from both sides.

With the BNP boycotting the election and no other credible opposition party against it, Hasina's Awami League is likely to gain the upper hand and will likely form the government for the fourth consecutive term.

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