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Bangladesh to Hold Elections Despite Opposition Boycott


In Bangladesh, authorities say national elections will be held this month despite a decision by one of the country's two main political alliances to boycott the polls. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, there is widespread concern at the deepening political turmoil.

The Election Commission in Dhaka announced Thursday that the country will hold parliamentary elections as scheduled on January 22, even though the Awami League and its allies have decided not to participate.

The Awami League is one of the two main contenders in the elections. It pulled out after alleging that the interim administration organizing the polls is biased toward its main rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, or BNP, which led the previous government.

The Awami League wants the polls postponed until the voters list is overhauled and key election officials are fired.

But the caretaker administration, which took charge in October, says it is constitutionally bound to hold elections and install a new government by the end of the month. It has dismissed a request by the Awami League to seek permission from the Supreme Court to extend the time for an election.

Political analysts warn that the Awami League's boycott decision has set the stage for turmoil. The country is already reeling under a violent campaign of protests and strikes spearheaded by the party to back its demand electoral reform.

A former professor of South Asian affairs at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, Sukh Deo Muni, says the Awami League will intensify its program of protests.

"Not only will they [Awami League] boycott the elections, but they would try to ensure that the elections are not held. They will have demonstrations, they will have agitations, the government will probably have to come down very heavily on them," he said. "It would be a sham of an election that would remain in question."

The Awami League has already announced its decision to stage a two-day transport blockade starting Sunday.

The boycott by the Awami League means that its rival, the BNP, and its allies, can win the polls uncontested. The BNP has already launched a full-scale campaign, and has urged the government to put down all attempts to foil the elections.

The government called in the army last month to maintain order after 40 people died and hundreds were wounded in protests.

Diplomats have expressed concern at the situation. A spokesman for the United States embassy in Dhaka has urged the Awami League to reconsider its decision to boycott the polls. A spokesman for the British High Commission says it is concerned by the prospect of violence, and hopes that a way can be found to allow all political parties to participate.