Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has sought to scotch raging speculation that she plans to remove ailing President Iajuddin Ahmed and take over the post to facilitate the victory of her party in the general election.
"I don't want to be the president... we don't have any such thought," Zia told parliament, brushing aside allegations by opposition leader Sheikh Hasina.
Intervening in a debate in Jatiya Sangsad, Zia said her archrival and former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who had made the allegation first, had lost the confidence to fight the elections.
In a witty reply, she asked if Hasina, having lost confidence, was egging her on to become president so that she (Hasina) could cross over to the ruling alliance and become future prime minister.
Hasina was not present in the house, the Daily Star newspaper reported.
Hasina has been saying that Zia wants to "grab" the presidency so that she could oversee the elections and ensure the victory of her party.
The controversy began earlier this month when Ahmed fell sick and went to Singapore for a heart surgery.
National Assembly Speaker Jamiruddin Sarkar officiated in his absence. Ahmed did not resume duties on return, ostensibly on medical advice, sparking another debate whether the country could have "two presidents".
What began as a barbed comment of Hasina snowballed into a major debate with the media joining in and ministers, including of the ruling alliance, speculating on the likely "pliable" and "loyal" person who could replace Ahmed in case Zia herself did not take the post.
Zia told the house: "As long as the president is ill, the speaker would perform his duty."
Hasina, the Awami League chief, in her speech on the budget discussions had expressed her suspicion that the prime minister was planning to become president by "making President Iajuddin Ahmed sick".
"Turning the president ill is an old game that her husband also played," Hasina said, referring to late Ziaur Rahman edging out President AM Sayem in the late 1970s to become the country's president.
Hasina said she feared that Ahmed might have been kept "under house arrest".