B'desh opposition calls nationwide strike, demands cancellation of January 7 elections

B'desh opposition calls nationwide strike, demands cancellation of January 7 elections

Dhaka, Nov 16 (PTI) Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) on Thursday called a 48-hour nationwide strike demanding the cancellation of the January 7 general elections, claiming that it was meant to install Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's ruling Awami League government for a fourth straight term.

The announcement came a day after Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal said that the much-awaited general elections will be held on January 7.

BNP's senior joint secretary general Ruhul Kabir Rizvi called the two-day general strike starting from 6 AM Sunday.

Former premier Khaleda Zia-led party has rejected the announcement of the election schedule and vowed to continue protesting against the government's decision to carry on with the election process.

'Everybody in Bangladesh knows the outcome of this election,' senior BNP leader Abdul Moyeen Khan said.

Several BNP allies including far right Jamaat-e-Islami extended support for the strike call, prompting law enforcement agencies to intensify countrywide security vigil and also calling out paramilitary troops to guard the highways and major cities.

The opposition continued to enforce intermittent nationwide transport blockades since October 28, disrupting supply systems, demanding Prime Minister Hasina's resignation to make way for a neutral government to conduct the polls.

Chief Election Commissioner Awal on Wednesday said a smooth election required a congenial atmosphere but 'for a long time there were differences of opinion among political leadership on the question of election, particularly over the institutional method of the polling'.

In a veiled reference to the BNP and its allies, Awal said his office invited all registered political parties who were “reluctant” to take part in the upcoming polls to hold dialogue with the Commission but “they rejected the invitation”.

'There could likely be differences of opinion in a multi-party democracy. But if the differences cause clashes and violence that could adversely affect the election process, consensus and solution is needed,” the CEC said.

The election commission chief called upon all political parties to shun the path of “conflict and violence” and “seek a solution” and added that his office would always welcome spontaneous participation and contest of all poetical parties in the polls.

Awami League has welcomed the election schedule, with its general secretary Obaidul Quader saying that the ruling party would extend all required support to the Election Commission to ensure a free and fair election.

'We believe that the time for participating in the election is not over yet and BNP's participation (in the election) would be welcomed,' Qader said at a press conference.

BNP has repeatedly said that no election under the incumbent government would be fair while the Awami League rejected the demand, saying elections would be held under the incumbent premier Hasina in line with the constitution.

The BNP had boycotted the 2014 election but took part in 2018 polls, which party leaders later said was a mistake alleging that the voting was marred with widespread rigging and intimidation.

The US and other major Western countries called for a dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition to ensure an inclusive and credible elections, which however, saw no headway due to reluctance from both the sides.

US Ambassador Peter Haas on Wednesday met Awami League general secretary Quader to hand over a letter urging dialogue to resolve the political crisis surrounding the election.

Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy with a history of violence, especially before and during elections. Hasina seeks to return to power for the fourth consecutive term through next elections.

The political violence in the last two weeks killed at least five people including a policeman. Over 200 people were wounded and dozens of vehicles, mostly empty buses, were damaged or set on fire during the protests, prompting authorities to deploy paramilitary troops to guard highways and maintain law and order in major cities.

According to media reports, some 8,000 opposition leaders and activists including BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir have been arrested in a nationwide crackdown. PTI AR ZH AKJ ZH ZH

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