Supporters of Bangladesh's former military ruler HM Ershad enforced a strike in five northwestern districts on Thursday to protest against what they termed as "plots" to bar him from contesting next month's polls over a graft charge.
Witnesses said most shops were shut while vehicular movement was thin as slogan-chanting supporters took to the street in the five districts, including Ershad's hometown Rangpur, where activists on late on Tuesday went on rampage smashing cars and damaging shops to protest the "plot".
Ershad, a crucial ally of former prime minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed's Awami League (AL)-led mega alliance sought to contest for five seats of the 300-seat parliament but is faced with uncertainty because of the revival of pending case in the Supreme Court.
Election officials rejected four of his nomination papers in different districts while in Dhaka they referred his paper to the Election Commission without any decision amid protests from supporters and allies.
A Supreme Court judge on Tuesday asked Ershad to surrender on a graft charge endangering his candidature in the next month's polls that overnight pushed Bangladesh's volatile politics to fresh uncertainty with the mega alliance warning of a possible poll boycott.
They also termed the developed a "cruel farce".
"We are now thinking if we should go to the polls at all," Obaidul Qader, AL joint general secretary said adding the situation might force the mega alliance to rethink about tough actions like fresh nationwide siege for an indefinite period that the country saw in the past two months.
"I am an eligible candidate for the election but plots are being hatched to stop me," Ershad told reporters after a more than an hour-long meeting with Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday.
Acting chief election commissioner Mahfuzur Rahman said the commission would take a final decision by today on Ershad's candidature while the commission officials said the matter would be referred to the law ministry and attorney general for suggestions.
Ershad earlier alleged that the High Court verdict was "motivated" as it was passed without hearing him despite his pleas seeking time and "it was linked to his decision to join the mega alliance".
AL and its allies have long been alleging that the past BNP government "politicised" all spheres of administration including the judiciary.
The former military ruler, who served six years in jail after his ouster in a pro-democracy upsurge in 1990, earlier hinted at joining Khaleda Zia's four-party.
Supreme Court's Appellate Division chamber judge on Tuesday ordered Ershad to surrender before a lower court rejecting his leave to appeal prayer against an earlier High Court verdict sentencing him to two years of imprisonment in the graft case called Japanese Boat Purchase scandal during his nine years of rule from 1981.
State lawyers said the Jatiya Party chairman would be barred from the election as he was convicted on a "charge of moral turpitude" since the constitution does not allow anybody to contest the polls if he is sentenced to at least two years of imprisonment in such cases, and unless he exhausts five years on completion of the jail term.
Ershad's counsels, however, said there was no legal bar for him to take part in the elections as he sought a permission from the Appellate Division to appeal against the High Court judgement.
"An appeal is pending with the Appellate Division and according to our law no verdict is final until it reaches at the final stage of the trial.
It means Ershad can contest the polls," former attorney general and Ershad's lawyer Rafiqul Haque said.
Ershad is considered as a crucial kingmaker in the January 22 polls and both Sheikh Hasina's alliance and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led four-party of her archrival Khaleda Zia were engaged in a tug of war to get him beside their respective sides in the past several months.