Dhaka: Bangladesh is all set to choose a new representative in the Jatiya Sangshad or the unicameral legislature of the country for a period of next five years.
In the upcoming general elections, 39 registered political parties are going to participate, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League (AL) and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) headed by former premier Begum Khaleda Zia, along with their own separate set of alliances. However, the Islamic Andolan Bangladesh will be contesting the elections as a lone political party in 292 constituencies of the total 300, the Dhaka Tribune reported.
This time, around 104.2 million voters are going to exercise their franchise in 299 of the 300 constituencies across the country. Only in Jhenaidah 3 constituency, voting has been postponed by the Bangladesh Election Commission due to the death of four supporters of the Jatiya Oikya Front’s (National Unity Front) candidate, who were reportedly hacked to death with sharp weapons during an attack on them carried out by ruling party men at Kotchandpur upazila on Saturday.
Therefore, in this seat, voting is slated to take place on January 27, 2019.
According to Dhaka Tribune, a total number of 1,861 candidates are going to represent the country, among which 128 are contesting independently.
Bangladesh’s Election Commission had kept a deadline of Friday (December 28) 8 am for the election campaigning that had initiated on December 10, after the candidates were allocated with their own specific party symbols.
The polls are significant, as for the first time in Bangladesh’s electoral history, Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) would be used in six constituencies.
There are 40,183 polling centres and 2,07,312 polling booths in the 299 constituencies; among which 25,827 (64 per cent) of polling centres have been marked as important.
The voting is also scheduled to take place between 8 am in the morning to 4 pm in the evening.
The BNP had boycotted the last parliamentary elections due to Khaleda’s house arrest before the scheduled elections. But, this time, it has cobbled a rainbow coalition under the banner of Jatiya Oikya Front. Long regarded as a platform for remnants of the pre-partition Muslim League, anti-AL and anti-India elements from extreme left to extreme right, the BNP has taken on board not only nominees of the banned Jamaat-e-Islami but also stalwarts of the Liberation War- octogenarian Dr Komal Hossain as well as Tiger Kader Siddiqui of the Mukti Bahini.
The Awami League, which positions itself as the pro-liberation secular force, has allied with the obscurantist Hefajat-e-Islam and other Islamic parties. It has a limited electoral understanding with former president Ershad’s Jatiyo Party. Also, in the AL camp is Bikalpdhara Bangladesh of Badrudozza Chaudhari, who was elected as the country’s President in 2001 by the BNP but was tossed out later.
While incumbent prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s extended family of cousins and nephews are in the fray, it is the first time that none from the Zia family is in the contest. Convicted in a corruption case and barred from contesting elections, Khaleda has been in prison since February this year. Her son and heir apparent Tarique Rahman, also convicted in many cases, is in exile in England.
Elections are being held in the background of unprecedented pressure on the opposition parties and denial of legitimate democratic space for dissent.
Security has been beefed up in 389 upazilas till January 2. The security and law enforcement agencies of the country have unveiled various measures, to ensure an environment free of violence, intimidation and coercion before and after the elections. The Bangladesh Army troops, members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) are reportedly patrolling the streets and have set up security check-posts over different locations in Dhaka.
In a recent incident, eight people were arrested on Saturday from different parts of the capital city for allegedly spreading rumours regarding the upcoming general elections.
In addition to this, the telecom regulatory services in the country have further extended orders to shut down high-speed mobile internet services until Sunday midnight, Al Jazeera reported.
With opposition parties crying foul over Hasina’s authoritarian rule, there has been a spurt of violence among the political parties, including burning down of regional offices. However, if the predictions are not, in the end, proved wrong, Hasina and her ruling Awami League are set to win a third consecutive term in power.
The incumbent Prime Minister and her supporters are in a buoyant mood not merely because they are confident of gaining a fresh five-year term in office but also because of the undeniable economic progress the government has presided over in the decade since January 2009, including massive infrastructure projects and poverty alleviation programmes.