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Bangladesh Opposition Leader Zia Ineligible to Contest Polls

Bangladesh's former prime minister and opposition leader Khaleda Zia, center, leaves after a court appearance in Dhaka, Dec. 28, 2017.

Bangladeshi opposition leader and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia is ineligible to contest Dec. 30 national elections because she has been sentenced to prison terms in two corruption cases, authorities said Sunday.

Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said anyone convicted and sentenced to two years or more in jail is not eligible, as per a recent Supreme Court ruling.

Zia, who has been in jail since last February, is serving a 10-year sentence on one corruption conviction. In October, she was sentenced to seven years after being found guilty in another corruption case.

Zia had filed nominations for three parliamentary seats. Her party rejected Sunday's announcement.

"This is an ill-motivated decision," said Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, a leader of Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party. "The rejection of her nomination papers are part of the government's blueprint to keep her away from the election."

The elections will be held under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is seeking to return to power for a third consecutive time amid opposition accusations that she was becoming increasingly authoritarian and the opposition was being handled with an iron fist.

The country's law minister had said after her convictions that it was up to the Election Commission to decide whether Zia could contest the polls. The Supreme Court is the guardian of the constitution and it clarifies or explains any constitutional ambiguity.

Bangladesh's constitution says "a person shall be disqualified for election as, or for being, a member of parliament who has been, on conviction for a criminal offense involving moral turpitude, sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than two years, unless a period of five years has elapsed since his release."

The attorney general said Sunday that the provision applies to anyone in general, and election officials cited the court ruling to declare the 73-year-old Zia unfit.

Zia faces more than 30 other charges, ranging from corruption to sedition, which her party has denounced as politically motivated. The government has denied the allegations.

Zia was the country's prime minister three times " twice for full five-year terms and once for a brief period.

Bangladeshi politics are deeply divided, with rivals Hasina and Zia, both of political dynasties, alternately ruling the country since 1991, when democracy was restored.