Khaleda Zia’s party to challenge Hasina in election

Published November 12, 2018
BNP veteran leader Khaleda Zia. — AFP/File photo
BNP veteran leader Khaleda Zia. — AFP/File photo

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s main opposition party announced on Sunday it would not boycott next month’s general election and would challenge Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the polls, despite its leader being in jail.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party said it would contest the December 23 election but has expressed fears it will not be democratic and has threatened protests.

The BNP boycotted the 2014 election over fears it would be rigged, allowing Hasina to walk into a second term unchallenged. The prime minister’s tenure has been marred by a crackdown on dissent in the South Asian democracy of 160 million.

The opposition says thousands of its activists have been detained in recent months, depriving it of a grassroots presence necessary to fight any polls.

BNP veteran leader Khaleda Zia remains behind bars, her prison sentence doubled last month to ten years for corruption charges her supporters say were politically motivated.

The two-term prime minister has virtually no time to appeal her sentence, and will almost certainly be banned from contesting the election against her arch-rival Hasina.

The opposition has said the charges against Zia, and other party activists, were deliberately planned by Hasina’s increasingly authoritarian government.

Zia’s exiled son and heir apparent, Tarique Rahman, will not be able to contest the polls after being sentenced to life in prison last month over a 2004 grenade attack at Hasina’s rally. He lives in exile.

The arrest of activists and prominent dissidents including student leaders and a top photographer have also cast a shadow over the buildup to the vote. BNP senior leader Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain said the decision to contest the election was not easy given their circumstances.

“We are going to the polls as part of a democratic struggle,” he said.

The opposition has formed an alliance with other parties, including Islamist outfits. Its main ally, the Jamaat-e-Islami, has been banned from contesting the election. But its leaders are expected to take part running on BNP tickets in the Muslim-majority country.

Published in Dawn, November 12th, 2018

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