Former president Hossain Mohammed Ershad's disqualification from the forthcoming elections in Bangladesh is a serious blow to the Awami League-led alliance, forcing a re-think in its strategy and giving a clear advantage to the rival alliance of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.
Ershad, convicted for corruption, lost his appeal before the Supreme Court that asked him to surrender to a lower court.
Following the verdict, the Returning Officer rejected all the five nominations filed by Ershad in parliamentary constituencies across the country.
The rejection of Ershad's nomination papers sparked a violent protest in Greater Rangpur Division in northern Bangladesh where leaders and activists of his Jatiya Party staged protests and called for dawn-to-dusk strike on Thursday.
Called the "grand alliance" after Ershad and two other parties joined it earlier this month, the conglomerate led by Hasina said on Wednesday it would reconsider contesting the Jan 22 polls.
However, analysts said there is no way Hasina and her allies would be able to boycott the polls and allow a virtual walkover to Zia, who governed the country for the last five years.
Such a situation could also provide a fillip to the radical Islamist forces that are formally part of the Zia-led alliance.
Islamist groups have become more active in Bangladesh since the 9/11 terror strike in the US, causing concern to the world community.
Their activities have not abated despite the Zia government nabbing some of the kingpins on murder charges and securing their conviction.
Sensing the rejection coming his way, Ershad met Hasina at her residence and discussed strategies for the next course of action.
He told media persons that if the "conspiracy against him" continues he might not contest the election.
"I am eligible to contest the election, but they are obstructing me. Since I am now part of the grand alliance, I will take my decision in consultation with the alliance partners," he said emerging from the meeting.
In a couple of days, the 'grand alliance' that filed nomination papers Tuesday shifting from its rigid stance of not participating in the poll under the caretaker government of President Iajuddin Ahmed, will announce whether it will remain in the race, the Daily Star newspaper said on Thursday quoting unnamed political sources.
Though Ershad could not contest the 2001 parliamentary elections as he had been convicted in a case, his party had won 13 seats.
He can now file an appeal against his latest disqualification with the Election Commission in three days, on which the commission will have to give a decision before January 3.
The rejection of the nomination papers effectively bars him from contesting, but if the former military ruler stays out of jail, he could at least campaign for his party.
Ershad, the country's longest-serving president, had earlier sought to ally with Zia when he was acquitted from four long-pending cases.
The fifth case where his conviction has been upheld pertains to corruption in boat purchases from Japan during his tenure in office (1982-90).