General elections in Bangladesh will go ahead this month, the Election Commission said on Thursday, even though a key political alliance has announced a boycott of the polls that will undermine the credibility of the vote.
"The elections will be held on schedule. We are going ahead with preparations for the polls," Mahfuzur Rahman, acting chief election commissioner, told reporters about the balloting slated for January 22.
The political alliance led by former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said Wednesday it would boycott the vote, alleging that the interim government charged with organising the polls favors the alliance's opponents.
Hasina's new 19-party alliance wants the ballot to be delayed until electoral reforms, including the revision of a voter list, are complete and President Iajuddin Ahmed has stepped down.
By boycotting the election, the 19-party alliance has left the contest largely to a four-party coalition led by Hasina's main rival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and her Bangladesh National Party.
The president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry said the boycott would render the elections meaningless, cause more turmoil and hurt the economy.
"Politics will now be more unstable. Our economy will be its worst victim," said Mir Nasir Hossain.
"Elections without participation of all political parties will not be meaningful."
Bangladesh, an impoverished nation of 144 million people, has endured a months-long political crisis exacerbated by nationwide strikes and sometimes deadly demonstrations called by Hasina's supporters to urge electoral reform.
Hasina said her alliance will block transport and enforce a nationwide strike on Sunday and Monday to continue to push their demands.
At least 34 people have been killed in the protests and clashes between supporters of the rival political alliances since the start of the crisis in October.
President Ahmed called in the military to control the crisis in December.
Bangladesh has a history of political turmoil. Two presidents have been slain in military coups, and Hasina and Zia have traded premierships since the restoration of democracy in 1991.
Their rivalry is so bitter that the constitution stipulates a neutral caretaker government takeover for the 90 days before elections to oversee the vote.
But since the caretaker administration took over on October 29, Hasina has repeatedly claimed that it favors Zia's alliance, prompting the interim government to send two election officials on leave and start revising the voter list. It has also twice changed the election date.