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Bangladesh Opposition Ends 13-Month Boycott of Parliament


In Bangladesh, the opposition Awami League has returned to parliament after a year-long boycott. Political analysts fear any reconciliation between the country's two main political parties may not last long.

Bangladesh's main opposition party, the Awami League walked out of parliament thirteen months ago, complaining it was not being given enough opportunity to participate in parliamentary debates.

On Sunday, Awami League lawmakers returned to the chamber amid cheers and thumping of desks by ruling party members.

Sheikh Hasina, head of the Awami League, says she is back to push through electoral reform proposals made by her party and its allies. She says these must be implemented before the next general elections, due to be held early next year.

Awami League general secretary Abdul Jalil says there have been widespread calls for reforms to ensure free and fair elections.

"The demand of the people of this country and the demand of the diplomatic core throughout the world [is] that the reforms proposal should be placed in the parliament," said Jalil. "And the government also wanted that it should be placed before parliament. So demand from all corners, all walks of life we have fulfilled."

The electoral reform proposals involve the way elections are administered in Bangladesh. The constitution requires that before a general election takes place, the elected government must step aside and a caretaker government is appointed.

At the moment, it is appointed by the government in power. The Awami League and its allies say this leaves open the door to electoral manipulation. They say the head of the caretaker government and the chief election commissioner must be selected with the consent of all political parties.

The ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party has promised to discuss the proposals, and expressed hopes that opposition lawmakers will actively participate in the debate.

However, some political analysts say the spirit of reconciliation between the two parties may not last long.

Although the Awami League ostensibly ended its boycott to push the reform program, analysts say it was actually to ensure that opposition lawmakers did not lose their parliamentary seats due to absence. Under present rules, the seats would have been declared vacant if the lawmakers did not attend parliament this month.

Acrimony and intense antagonism mark relations between Bangladesh's two main political parties, and this has triggered many opposition-sponsored strikes and parliamentary boycotts in the past decade. In recent months, the Awami League and its allies have held several strikes and rallies to step up their campaign for early elections.

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