(FILE) Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina speaks with foreign election observers and journalists in Dhaka, Bangladesh. EFE/EPA

Bangladesh to hold general elections on Jan. 7

Dhaka, Nov 15 (EFE).- Bangladesh is set to hold general elections on Jan.7, the country’s election commission said Wednesday amid protests from the opposition and the threat of a boycott.

Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal announced the date in a televised address to the nation, saying that they were constitutionally obliged to hold elections by January next year.

“I, on behalf of the Election Commission, call on all parties to find a solution to their differences, shunning violence…we will welcome all parties in all elections,” said Awal.

According to the constitution, elections must be held within the final 90 days of a parliament’s tenure, which ends on Jan. 29.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies have urged the Election Commission to suspend the election until an agreement could be reached over the election-time administration.

BNP has long been demanding the resignation of the ruling Awami League government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in favor of a neutral caretaker government for the election period.

Police foiled a grand rally of the BNP on Oct. 28 pushing for their demand, and have since arrested more than 11,000 opposition leaders and activists.

Those arrested included BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and two other members of the standing committee, the highest policy-making body.

Alamgir is the senior-most opposition leader in the absence of ailing BNP chief Khaleda Zia and her son Tarique Rahman.

The government released Zia, the chairperson of the BNP, and suspended her jail sentences in two graft cases in March 2020, but has banned her from leaving the country.

Zia, the political rival of current PM Hasina, has since refrained from any political activities and has been undergoing treatment in critical condition at a Dhaka hospital since Aug. 9.

Her elder son, Tarique Rahman, who has been in exile in London since 2008 and been convicted in multiple cases, is serving as the acting party chairman in the absence of his mother.

BNP is holding a series of protests, including a strike and a communication blockade, since the party’s foiled rally in Dhaka.

The protests turned violent, leaving at least 11 people killed, according to the United Nations and an international rights group.

The government has ignored repeated calls for dialogue from local and international communities for a political consensus ahead of the planned election.

The United States Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, Donald Lu, this week sent a letter to three major parties—the Awami League, the BNP, and the Jatiya Party—calling for a dialogue without any precondition.

Government minister and Awami League general secretary Obaidul, after meeting with US Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas, dismissed the chance for a political dialogue with the opposition, saying that the opportunity “no longer exists.”

The BNP and its allies boycotted the 2014 election, paving the way for the Awami League to retain power, with 153 of its candidates getting elected unopposed.

BNP participated in the 2018 election, which was held amid widespread allegations of fraud and ballot stuffing by police on the night before the voting day, leading the Awami League and its allies to secure 288 seats out of 300.

The Awami League and BNP have ruled Bangladesh since 1991, except for a brief quasi-military rule in 2007–08.