DHAKA: Bangladesh’s main opposition officially boycotted upcoming general elections on Thursday, removing the only party that could have offered a realistic challenge to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s fourth consecutive term in power.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by formers premier Khaleda Zia, said since thousands of its members had been arrested in a sweeping crackdown. it had not applied to contest a single seat on the last day of filing candidate nominations before the January 7 polls.

“We are boycotting the election,” A.K.M Wahiduzzaman, a spokesman for the party, told AFP.

“We remained steadfast to our stand that we will not take part in any election with Sheikh Hasina in power”.

The BNP and other parties have held mass protests calling on Hasina to quit power and let a neutral government run the polls, demands the government has said are unconstitutional.

Human Rights Watch warned on Monday of a “violent autocratic crackdown”, with almost 10,000 opposition activists arrested and at least 16 people killed since protests escalated in October, including two police officers. Wahiduzzaman, accusing Hasina of having “rigged the previous two elections”, said the number arrested was even higher.

“She has arrested more than 18,090 of our leaders and supporters in an unprecedented crackdown since late October 28 to rig another election,” he said.

“We won’t join any farcical election.” Hasina has overseen massive economic growth during her 15 years in power, but there has been international alarm over democratic backsliding and thousands of extrajudicial killings.

Other key opposition parties have also said they will boycott the elections, including the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Islami Andolon Bangladesh.

Election Commission spokesman Shariful Alam said they would confirm who was participating later on Thursday.

Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2023

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