Bangladesh election officials on Monday rescheduled the general election by a week to Dec. 30, acknowledging that the decision was aimed at meeting a demand by the main opposition alliance that it be given more time to campaign.
The move took place a day after opposition parties, including those that boycotted the 2014 national polls, announced that they would participate in the general election, which authorities had set last week for Dec. 23.
“At the request of several political parties, the date of general election is deferred by a week,” K.M. Nurul Huda, the country’s chief election commissioner, told reporters in Dhaka on Monday.
“It’s a matter of pleasure that the BNP, Jukta Front and other political parties have decided to participate in the polls,” he said. “We’re waiting for all political parties to participate in the polls and believe that we would be able to hold a well-accepted election.”
Huda was referring to the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and a new alliance called Jatiya Oikya Front or National United Front (NUF), which is headed by former Foreign Minister Kamal Hossain.
Hossain, 81, announced Sunday that the opposition would contest the polls even after the government had rejected its seven demands, including the creation of a neutral caretaker administration that would run the country during the electoral period.
The ruling party had earlier described those demands as unconstitutional.
The general election will be the first since 2014, when the BNP led by jailed ex-premier Khaleda Zia boycotted the polls over fears they would be rigged and after a ruling coalition led by the Awami League had refused to allow a caretaker government to run the country during the election season.
The December election will decide if Sheikh Hasina, 71, will get a fourth term as prime minister. She first served as prime minister from 1996-2001 and was elected again in December 2008.
Zia, the BNP chief, remains behind bars since February after her conviction in two corruption cases. Among other demands, opposition leaders had asked for Zia’s release so she could participate in the elections. They also demanded for dissolution of parliament, which is controlled by the Awami League and its allies.
No reaction from BNP, NUF
On Monday, most of the major political parties hailed the election commission’s decision, but neither the newly formed NUF nor BNP, its key partner, issued a statement responding to it.
“The Election Commission has taken a positive decision for ensuring participation of all political parties in the election. We hail this decision,” Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader told journalists in Dhaka.
Meanwhile, the entire country has switched into election mode following the opposition’s decision to contest the elections.
Thousands of jubilant leaders, activists and supporters crowded the central party offices of both the Awami League and BNP in Dhaka on Monday as party officials began selling nomination papers.
“The fear for violence and one-sided election has apparently ended after the election commission’s decision to accept the opposition’s demand to delay the election,” human rights activist Sultana Kamal told BenarNews.