Bangladesh's main opposition BNP pulled out its candidate from today's crucial mayoral election in the suburban Narayanganj area after the government declined to deploy army to ensure poll security defying an Election Commission requisition.
"I wanted to contest the election even after non-deployment of the army. But things began to change for the worse ... as musclemen took control of the entire Narayanganj city," BNP nominee Taimur Alam Khandaker told a crowded press conference in the wee hours today at his residence.
Khandaker said that being a "loyal political activist" he had decided to withdraw from the race showing respect to the directive of party chief Khaleda Zia despite his preparedness to contest the polls.
"My loyalty to the party and its chief is unswerving. I quit the race complying with the decision that my leader (Zia) has taken considering all aspects of the situation," he said in a choked voice.
Television reports and witnesses said the polls were underway with heavy turnout of voters in peaceful atmosphere as extra police and elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) were called out to guard the polling centres and streets of the river port city.
Analysts earlier said Khandaker had a good chance to win the polls as his two other main rivals Selina Hayat Ivy and Shamim Osman belonged to ruling Awami League which, however, unofficially extended its support to the latter after negotiations appeared futile to field a consensus candidate in the polls.
The private Desh TV, meanwhile, reported that Khandaker told his close associates that the party's decision to pull him out of the race was led by persuasion by BNP's crucial fundamentalist ally Jamaat-e-Islami, which was out to launch a total anti-government campaign.
"The government's refusal to deploy the army has exposed its real face. It has now become obvious that the polls will be reduced to a farce under this Constitution-violating government and toothless Election Commission," BNP Vice President Abdullah al-Noman earlier said at midnight last night, announcing the dramatic development barely six hours before voting opened this morning.