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Bangladesh Ruling Party Faces Defections Ahead of Election


In Bangladesh, the ruling party has been hit by political defections just as it gets ready to hand over power to a caretaker administration ahead of national elections. The ruling party is also locked in a bitter confrontation with the main opposition party.

More than a score of politicians including several lawmakers defected from the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party Thursday and launched a new party, after accusing the government of widespread corruption.

The newly formed Liberal Democratic Party includes senior leaders of the ruling party and three former ministers. Oli Ahmed, a leader of the breakaway group, says the new party will challenge the two main parties that have dominated Bangladesh's political landscape.

The desertions came a day before Prime Minister Khaleda Zia was due to hand over power to a caretaker administration at the end of her five-year term. Under Bangladesh's constitution, an interim government will take charge of the country and hold elections within three months.

An independent political analyst in Dhaka, Ataus Samad, calls the new party "a fringe group," but says it could adversely affect the re-election chances of the Bangladesh National Party, or the BNP, as it is popularly known in Bangladesh.

"We have to see how much support they get, but the point is that the amount of support they will be able to take away from BNP threatens BNP's election prospects," he said.

The defections are not the only political problem confronting the BNP. It is also locked in a bitter confrontation with the main opposition Awami League over how the forthcoming polls should be organized, and who should head the new caretaker government.

The Awami League is unhappy over the government's choice of a former chief justice, K.M. Hasan, as head of the interim administration. The opposition calls Hasan a "ruling party" stooge and says it cannot expect a government headed by him to hold free and fair elections.

The two sides held several rounds of talks this month on the issue, but failed to reach a consensus.

The Awami League has already called on its supporters to join massive street demonstrations if the government goes ahead and appoints Hasan, raising fears that Bangladesh may be headed for days of violent political protests.