Dhaka November 15 2023: Bangladesh said it will hold a parliamentary election on Jan. 7 in which the country's longest serving prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, will seek a fifth term, as deadly protests by opposition parties demand her resignation to make way for a caretaker government.
At least four people, including a policeman, were killed and hundreds injured in violent protests across the country in the past two weeks.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), whose top leadership is either jailed or in exile, has already said it will boycott the next national election if Hasina does not resign and allow in a caretaker government, two party leaders told Reuters earlier this month.
Boycotting the election will de-legitimise any win for her, they said. The BNP also boycotted the 2014 election but participated in 2018.
The BNP and other opposition groupings have been calling on Hasina to step down and allow the election to be held under a neutral caretaker government, a demand her administration has rejected.
A senior BNP leader on Wednesday said the "unilateral declaration" of the election schedule would further fuel tensions in the country.
"We sincerely wish the government would shun this path of violence and coercion of the opposition so that an appropriate congenial environment is created... ensuring peaceful coexistence where people can freely exercise their democratic rights," Abdul Moyeen Khan, a former minister and member of the BNP's highest policy-making body, told Reuters.
BNP’s senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi also voiced opposition to the election announcement.
“We reject with utter disgust the schedule announced by the spineless Election Commission to take away democracy and the voting rights of the people through another farce election like in the past at the behest of Sheikh Hasina,”
Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal called for participation of all parties in the election, emphasizing dialogue to resolve the political crisis.
“Reaching a consensus and solution through dialogue isn’t an impossible matter,” he said in a televised address to the nation while announcing the election schedule.
Security has been beefed up in the capital Dhaka and other parts of the country.
'AN ESCALATION OF VIOLENCE'
Analysts say the violence sweeping Bangladesh is unlikely to subside easily.
"We fear an escalation of violence in the coming days to create a pretext for emergency rule in Bangladesh," said Shakil Ahmed, assistant professor for government and politics at Jahangirnagar University in Dhaka.
"Many lives and property could be lost in this process."
Hasina, who has maintained tight control since coming to power in 2009, has been accused of authoritarianism, human rights violations, cracking down on free speech and suppressing dissent while jailing her critics.
Her main rival and two-time premier, BNP leader Khaleda Zia, is effectively under house arrest for what her party calls trumped-up corruption charges. Her son and BNP's acting chairman, Tarique Rahman, is in exile after several charges were brought against him that he denies.
Hasina's government is under pressure from Western countries to hold "free and fair" elections.
The United States, the top buyer of Bangladeshi garments, said in May it was implementing a policy allowing for the restriction of visas to Bangladeshis who undermine the democratic election process in the country of nearly 170 million people.