After a walkover in 2014, Bangladesh’s ruling party will finally face an opposition in next month’s general elections

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After a walkover in 2014, Bangladesh’s ruling party will finally face an opposition in next month’s general elections

  • In a significant move, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the main political rival to the ruling Awami League, has started the process of nominating candidates for next month’s national elections.
  • The BNP will be joined by an alliance of around 20 other opposition parties, the Jatiya Oikyafront.
  • The Awami League, which is seeking a re-election for the third time under current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, did not face an opposition in the last general elections in 2014 as the BNP and other parties had boycotted the elections.

On November 12th, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), one of two major political parties in the country, started the process of nominating candidates for next month’s national elections.

The move is significant as it is an important precursor to what is likely to be a meaningfully contested national election scheduled on 23 December with a potentially formidable opposition. The BNP will be joined by an alliance of other opposition parties to contest the rule of the current party in power, Awami League, according to the Press Trust of India.

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The 20-party alliance, which has been named the Jatiya Oikyafront, is being led by Kamal Hossain, an 81-year lawyer and head of the Jatiya Oikya Prokriya (JOP), a smaller opposition outfit. The BNP and JOP announced a partnership last month.

However, the going will not be easy for the opposition alliance. The head of the BNP, former prime Minister Khaleda Zia, has been languishing in prison since February on corruption charges. In addition, the opposition alliance has already faced a preliminary setback as the Awami League has refused its proposal to install an interim government in the build-up to the polls.

That was also an issue of contention in the 2014 general elections. A law mandating the installation of an interim government during the poll period was abolished by the Awami League in 2011.

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The Awami League, which is seeking a re-election for the third time under current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, did not face an opposition in the last general elections as the BNP and other parties boycotted the elections after this demand wasn’t met. As a result, 153 of the 300 seats in Bangladesh’s Parliament went uncontested.

While the participation of an opposition alliance in Bangladesh’s general elections is a step forward for democracy, the Awami League’s reluctance to install a caretaker government is bound to lead to allegations of rigging as voting gets underway. That was the case in the previous general elections as well.

Hence, the stage is set for a heated contest, and possibly, a violent election process. Power has oscillated between the BNP and Awami League since the country’s first general elections in 1973. Fearing a united opposition, the Awami League will do what it can to retain a majority in Parliament.

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The onus will now lie on Bangladesh’s Election Commission to oversee a fair election as the international community watches intently.
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