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In Bangladesh, Awami League Alliance Begins Campaigning for January Polls

  • Anjana Pasricha

In Bangladesh, the major opposition alliance has begun campaigning for January's general elections after the government implemented electoral changes demanded by the alliance. This progress follows weeks of protests and threats of an election boycott. But continued opposition demands for a fair election and the announcement of more countrywide protests in the coming weeks mean the threat of political turmoil remains. Anjana Pasricha has more on the situation from VOA's New Delhi Bureau.

In October, thousands of activists from the Awami League and its allies launched a campaign of violent street protests and blockades demanding key changes before national elections are held on January 22. The protests crippled normal life, killed more than 40 people, and plunged the country into political turmoil. The League threatened to boycott the polls.

Then in a sharp turnaround, the alliance led by the Awami League decided to take part in the elections.Hundreds of candidates rushed to file nomination papers this week after the government extended a deadline to register for the elections.

For the time being at least, the mood has changed as colorful election rallies replace noisy, street protests by the Awami League and its allies. Awami League general secretary, Abdul Jalil, says the party's commitment to democracy prompted it to participate in the upcoming elections.

"For interest of democratic development in this country we have decided to participate in the election," he said. "We always said we wanted to participate in the election, but election condition should be made congenial."

The caretaker government has made key changes to satisfy the Awami League's demands for what it calls a "free and fair election." It has agreed to review a voters list which the Awami League says is stacked with fake names, and sent a controversial, senior election official on extended leave.

The January elections pit the Awami League, which was in opposition for the last five years, against its rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party or BNP. The BNP handed over power to a caretaker administration in October to supervise the polls.

However the Awami League says the administration must still prove that it will ensure a level playing field during the polls. Political uncertainty, and the threat of more violence, is not over yet.

Abdul Jalil says the party will review its position in the coming weeks.

"Still even then, we are very cautious, that if government does not behave properly, and government does not make the circumstances congenial for a free and fair election, then election is uncertain, we think so," he added.

Nevertheless, there is widespread relief across Bangladesh, after weeks of fear that the country may be headed for a political impasse.

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