DHAKA - Another major Bangladesh political party Tuesday announced a boycott of the upcoming general election, declaring the country was on the “brink of disaster” as seven more people died in poll protests.
Former dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad said his Jatiya Party, the country’s third largest and a key ally of the ruling Awami League, would not contest the January 5 election, following in the footsteps of the opposition alliance.
“Since all parties are not contesting, so the Jatiya Party will also not participate in the polls,” Ershad told reporters.
“I am not going to contest the election. The country is at the brink of disaster. We’re heading towards uncertainty,” Ershad said. The boycott is a blow to the credibility of the election as pressure mounts to reschedule the date. Only the Awami League and several small left-wing parties are now expected to contest the 300 seats in the national parliament.
“It has hammered the last nail into the election coffin,” said Osman Faruq, spokesman for the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
The BNP and its allies announced a boycott Monday amid growing street violence that has left 59 people dead since late October, and a series of opposition strikes and blockades that have paralysed large parts of the country.
The BNP called the street protests to try to force Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to quit to make way for a neutral administration to oversee the poll, saying it would be rigged if she remains in charge.
Hasina refused the demand and instead formed an interim multi-party cabinet which includes her allies.
As political uncertainty grows, the United States urged a halt to the “senseless violence” and called on rival political parties to hold talks to resolve the crisis.
“The senseless violence of past days is especially reprehensible as it intentionally targeted innocent people with bombs and by burning them alive in vehicles,” the US embassy said on Tuesday.
“ ... we believe that it is now more urgent than ever for both major parties to empower trusted lieutenants to undertake constructive dialogue to find a way forward to hold free and fair elections that are credible in the eyes of the Bangladeshi people,” it added.
The comments came even as fresh violence erupted across the country on Tuesday between police and bomb-throwing opposition supporters over the elections, leaving another seven people dead.
Police said they opened fire on opposition activists during fierce clashes in the southern district of Satkhira and the central district of Chandpur, after some protesters blocked a main road with logs in Satkhira.
“They attacked officers with crude bombs and guns as we tried to clear the logs after Monday midnight,” the district’s police chief Molla Jahangir Hossain told AFP. “We responded by firing rifles. Later we learnt that two protesters were killed,” he said.
In Chandpur police fired shotguns at about 300 opposition supporters who attacked them with home-made bombs and rocks, local police chief Amir Jafar told AFP.
“Two people including a protester were killed,” he added.
Another two people were killed during protests in the port city of Chittagong while a burns victim succumbed to his injuries in the capital.
There was no immediate comment from Hasina or her government on the Jatiya boycott.
Four free and fair polls have been held under caretaker governments in the past two decades, but Hasina scrapped the system in 2011 - arguing that it was unconstitutional and could pave the way for military coups.
Bangladesh has witnessed at least 19 coups since August 1975 when Hasina’s father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country’s founding leader, was assassinated.