Bangladesh’s Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal on Saturday said that the voting set for Sunday’s general election lacked completeness since a major opposition party was not participating, but his office has taken all steps to continue the constitutional continuity.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the country’s main opposition party led by former prime minister Khalida Zia is boycotting the January 7 election amid violence and has called for a 48-hour nationwide strike against the “illegal government”.
The BNP is demanding an interim non-party neutral government to hold the election.
The demand was, however, rejected by the government headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is also the chairman of the ruling Awami League.
“The universality of the election has not reached the expected level,” Awal said in a nationwide televised address as the day-long voting for the 12th Jatiya Sangsad starts at 8 am on Sunday.
The election commission chief said disputes over the institutional arrangement frustrated the expected election participation this time, but Bangladesh’s political leadership must take sincere initiative for a permanent settlement of the disagreements “for the future, if not today”.
Yet, he further said that the election could not be called “non-participatory or uncompetitive” as 28 political parties and 1,971 candidates were contesting in 299 out of 300 parliamentary constituencies.
The BNP has boycotted the polls, saying elections under Prime Minister Hasina’s government would not be fair and credible and asked it to quit letting a non-party caretaker government run the elections.
Media tally suggested violence in the run-up to the elections killed at least 15 people in the past three months since October 28, 2023, when trains, buses and trucks were torched in clandestine attacks.
Awal, a former lower judiciary judge who later served as the top law ministry bureaucrat, said the parties which boycotted the polls previously committed just to carry out their campaign peacefully, discarding any violent means.
“But acts of sabotage and violence became visible amid announced general strikes and transport blockades. Trains, other transport and election centres have been torched,” he said, without naming any party, but added that the incidents worried the election commission.
“Yet as part of my inviolable constitutional responsibility, I am requesting the people to cast your votes defying all your worries, concerns and unease to exercise your franchise,” he said.
Awal said over eight lakh law enforcement personnel, including Army troops, were deployed to maintain peace and order while his office simultaneously engaged some 3,000 executive and judicial magistrates to ensure the smooth conduct of the elections.
More than 119 million people are registered as voters, but voters appeared to be disinterested in exercising the franchise due to lack of competitiveness.
Bangladesh elections, Bangladesh’s Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal, Awami League, Opposition boycott Bangladesh, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)