DHAKA : Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Thursday ruled out cancelling the controversial January 5 polls despite a boycott by opposition parties and violent protests which have plunged the country into a crisis. Her government has been under intense international pressure to resolve a standoff over the general election amid a worsening of political violence that has left at least 114 people dead since late October.
“The election process has begun. She has missed the train,” Hasina said, referring to her bitter political rival Khaleda Zia who is leader of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Zia, who has twice served as premier, and her allies are boycotting the polls after Hasina rejected their demand that she step aside and make way for elections under a neutral caretaker government. The BNP say any polls under Hasina would be rigged, arguing the caretaker system the premier scrapped in 2011 had delivered at least four free and fair polls since 1991.
Hasina’s latest remarks, made during a televised speech to her party Thursday, suggest the ruling Awami League has shut the door on any compromise with the BNP following three rounds of UN-brokered talks between the parties last week.
Since late October an 18-party opposition alliance led by Zia has been holding a series of protests to topple Hasina and force her to accept their demands. A series of opposition strikes and blockades have crippled the economy, shut offices and schools for months and paralysed inter-city transport. On Thursday, just hours before the opposition’s latest 72-hour nationwide transport strike was due to end, the BNP and its allies called another four-day blockade from Saturday to press their demands. The Election Commission, meanwhile, said the proposed boycott by the BNP and the Jatiya Party, which had previously been a key ally of Hasina, meant there will be no contest in 154 of the 300 parliamentary seats available.
Hasina’s party has already won 127 of these seats unopposed and her allies have gained another seven. She now needs victory in only 17 of the remaining 146 seats to form a government. The BNP has called the uncontested seats farcical, saying it has “set a new mark in election fraudulence” in the country. Hasina has rejected demands for her resignation, insisting it is a constitutional requirement to hold the scheduled polls. On Thursday however the premier hinted that she could dissolve the parliament formed after the January polls and call a fresh election if the BNP shuns violence and the two parties reach consensus. “The talks will continue. They will continue after the election,” she said, referring to the UN-brokered dialogue between her party and the BNP. “If we reach a consensus through these talks... if it is necessary we’ll dissolve the parliament and call a new election. But she (Zia) has to stop calling strikes and blockades.”