Bangladesh’s Chief Election Commissioner on Wednesday announced that the next parliamentary elections will be held on January 7 next year, amid increased political tensions following the opposition’s campaign demanding Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s resignation to allow an interim government to conduct the polls.
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Kazi Habibul Awal announced the schedule for the upcoming elections while addressing the nation. This came as the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) enforced a 48-hour blockade to pressure the Awami League government.
This is the first time the polls have been announced in a televised speech. Earlier, a recorded version of the election schedule used to be announced by CECs.
Security tightened in Bangladesh
Ahead of the announcement, security was beefed up in the capital and other major cities as BNP and its far-right allies waged a street campaign demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government to allow a non-party interim government to conduct the general elections.
The ruling Awami League has rejected the demand, saying elections would be held under the incumbent premier Hasina, who also rejected proposals for dialogue with the Opposition by the US and other major Western countries, going so far as to call the BNP a terrorist organisation.
Police on Wednesday warned that any acts of arson or sabotage would be strictly dealt with, as the BNP began the fifth phase of their nationwide transport blockade to spearhead its campaign against the Hasina-led government.
“We have taken all steps to ensure security,” Dhaka’s police commissioner Habibur Rahman told Bangladeshi media. Police and paramilitary forces were deployed outside the Election Commission building to ensure law and order.
What is going on in Bangladesh?
Chaos erupted in Bangladesh from October 28 when opposition parties took to the streets to demand Hasina’s resignation and started enforcing transport blockades and clashing with police and activists to press their demands.
The violence has continued for over two weeks, resulting in the deaths of five people, including a policeman. Over 200 people have been injured and dozens of vehicles have been set ablaze during the increasingly violent protests.
Roughly 8,000 opposition leaders and activists including BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir have been arrested in a nationwide crackdown. While government leaders insisted that they were arrested for criminal activities, the BNP accused Awami League of turning the country into a “big person”.
Western countries call for political settlement
Seven countries, including the United States, Britain and Canada, condemned the political violence in Bangladesh and urged all parties to exercise restraint and settlement between the three main parties.
US Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas on Monday sought meetings with leaders of the three parties to break the political impasse. “The United States wants free and fair elections conducted in a peaceful manner and calls on all sides to eschew violence and exercise restraint,” the embassy said.
In 2014, the BNP and like-minded parties boycotted the 10th general election over similar demands. The Awami League was then elected for a second consecutive term amid violence across the country. In 2018, the BNP took part in the election but raised allegations of ballot stuffing.
(with inputs from PTI)