Bangladesh moving towards bipolar electoral contest

The political scene in Bangladesh is fast getting polarised into two feverishly competing alliances as it prepares for the Jan 22 elections.

india Updated: Dec 27, 2006 12:15 IST

The political scene in Bangladesh is fast getting polarised into two feverishly competing alliances as it prepares for the Jan 22 parliamentary elections.

In the 2001 general elections, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) Bangladesh, Bangladesh Jatiya Party and Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ) contested as part of an alliance while constituents of the Awami League-led alliance and other parties competed separately.

The division in the votes of the Awami League-led alliance had contributed to the victory of the BNP-led alliance of Begum Khaleda Zia by a two-third majority.

This time, however, the Awami League-led alliance of Sheikh Hasina has striven, with success as per media reports, to present a united electoral front.

Although a record 4,146 nominations were filed by the time the process closed on Tuesday evening, their number could whittle down to less than 1,500 when the final withdrawals take place next week.

This is because the two alliances would between them have 600 candidates for the 300-member House.

Political analysts are also making allowance for rebels of the two alliances, with bleak electoral future though, and a large number of Independent candidates.

Much of the rush for filing of nominations was because the two alliances were haggling among their respective constituents about nominees.

JeI has made it clear that it is not happy with Zia allotting it just 31 seats. It had contested 30 seats and had won 17 of them in the 2001 polls.

Even if they have finalised their lists, the tradition in Bangladesh is that the lists are never disclosed till one alliance knows who the adversary is from the rival alliance, allowing for last-minute changes.

The number of submitted nominations was 2,563 in October 2001 election, 3,093 in June 1996, and 3,855 in 1991 election.

Meanwhile, the number of those injured in the Tuesday melee caused outside the offices of Returning Officers rose to 300.

At least 100 killed were activists of the two rival alliances led by Begum Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina.

The clash took place in Segun Bagicha in the heart of the capital, a stone's throw from the central secretariat that houses the government offices.

Dhaka Metro and its outskirts promise to be the chief battleground between the two alliances with both fielding their big guns from the area.

Sheikh Hasina has traditionally contested from one of the Dhaka seats, besides the one where her ancestral home is located and a third one elsewhere.

Media reports have hinted at Khaleda Zia too contesting from one of the Dhaka seats, besides three or four across the country.

Former president HM Ershad, who recently joined the Hasina-led alliance contests from Dhaka-5.

However, the former military ruler has double-trouble. Bidisha, a former wife, filed her nomination to challenge him.

This could mean washing of some dirty linen during the campaign.

Ershad, 77, also faces a conviction in a corruption case. On Tuesday, he failed to get relief from the Supreme Court that asked him to surrender before a lower court that convicted him.

First Published: Dec 27, 2006 12:15 IST