Bangladesh’s Awami League-led grand alliance suffered a major setback on Tuesday when one of its key members announced a boycott of the general elections a day after the main opposition BNP decided against taking part,raising questions over the credibility of the January 5 polls.
Political violence during opposition protests for postponing the polls continued unabated,claiming five lives today and taking the overall toll to 35.
Jatiya Party,the country’s third largest party and a key ally of the Awami League,said it would not participate in the elections,attributing its sudden decision to lack of “proper atmosphere”.
“It’s final that we will not go to the polls,” former president and chief of Jatiya Party,Hussain Muhammad Ershad,told reporters.
“I promised earlier that I will not take part in the elections unless all major political parties contest the polls … I kept my promise,” he said.
“I am not going to contest the election. The country is at the brink of disaster. We’re heading towards uncertainty,” Ershad said.
The former military ruler,said the party candidates who have submitted their nomination papers were asked to withdraw their candidature ahead of last date of withdrawal set by the Election Commission.
Ershad,who ran the country for nine years assuming power in a bloodless coup in 1981,has shifted his stance twice in the past weeks-once declining to contest the polls without BNP’s participation and later revising his decision “in the interest of democracy”.
Jatiya Party’s decision came a day after the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its right wing allies did not file nominations for the elections,sticking to their stance of boycotting the polls over the failure to form a neutral interim government.
Ershad’s announcement came a day after the last date filing nomination papers expired.
With this development,Awami League is the only major party in the fray for the polls,raising questions over the credibility of the poll process.
The Awami League and BNP are at loggerheads over the system for conducting the polls. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has formed a multi-party interim set-up while the BNP wants elections under a non-party interim government. Awami League is yet to issue any formal reaction to Jatiya Party’s decision but a senior leader of the party and Communications Minister Obaidul Quader told reporters that one should wait until the last date for withdrawal of nomination papers.
Quader said a process was still underway to resolve the political deadlock and the “political uncertainty will be over by the next one week”.
Quader earlier hinted that “behind the scene” talks with the BNP were underway to find a solution while several opposition party leaders preferring anonymity also acknowledged the process,believed to be backed by United Nations and countries like United States and India.
“His (Ershad’s) indignation is temporary,everything will be alright soon,” another ruling party leader Suranjit Sengupta said.
The opposition led by BNP is demanding that the polls should be shelved until the dispute is settled.
In a statement last night,BNP chief and ex-premier Khaleda Zia urged the Election Commission to postpone the schedule of the 10th parliamentary election saying “instead of being used as the puppet of a particular party,put off the announced polls schedule and save the country.”
Zia also called upon all to refrain from engaging in the process of “farcical election” while her party earlier asked the commission to shelve the polls plans until the major parties reached a settlement of the disputes.
As political uncertainly gripped the country,Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh is scheduled to visit the country on December 4 for bilateral consultations.
She would call on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina,Zia and Ershad besides holding talks with her counterpart Shahidul Haque.