Bangladesh to go to polls on Jan 5, BNP launches protests
Dhaka: Bangladesh's poll panel on Monday announced that the general election would be held on January 5, triggering protests by activists of the main opposition BNP which called a 48-hour nationwide transport blockade from tomorrow.
"The voting will be held on January 5, 2014," Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmed said.
The announcement came amidst a tense standoff between the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party over the system for conducting the polls.
Immediately after the announcement, opposition activists torched vehicles and exploded crude bombs at several places, prompting authorities to call out the paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) in Dhaka, Bogra and Sylhet.
The BNP will enforce a 48-hour nationwide blockade for railways, waterways and highways from tomorrow morning, a party spokesperson said. TV news channels reported the BNP had decided to reject the election schedule.
Authorities put in place tight security in the capital to contain a backlash by the BNP, which is spearheading a campaign for polls under a non-party interim government.
The polls will be overseen by a multi-party caretaker set-up formed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina but the BNP has claimed that elections under her watch will not be credible.
Ahmed said the Election Commission, a statutory independent body, had waited for the two major parties to reach an understanding on the electoral system "but now we don't have time to delay further".
The poll panel, he said, was obligated to hold the election by January 24, 2014 under a constitutional deadline.
"We repeatedly urged the major parties to reach a consensus to fulfil the nation's expectations. We still hope they will not ignore the expectations," Ahmed said.
He asked people to participate in the polls, saying the army would be mobilised to ensure security. "We will do everything required so you can go to polling centres and return home safely after casting your votes," he said.
According to the schedule, December 2 is the last date for submitting nomination papers. Analysts said this means the opposition must decide its stance on the polls in the next week, including the nomination of their candidates.
Over the past three weeks, deadly clashes during protests by the BNP and its allies claimed 31 lives. The violence also left scores wounded, many with burn injuries as protestors torched over 500 vehicles.