Tensions mount as Bangladesh gears up for general election

Bangladeshi people read a newspaper carrying headlines of the general election results in Dhaka. AFP

Bangladeshi people read a newspaper carrying headlines of the general election results in Dhaka. AFP

As Bangladeshis get set for Sunday's parliamentary elections, there are fears that violence and intimidation could keep many away from the polls, including two opposition candidates who said police had barricaded them inside their homes.

Meanwhile, criticism and statements of concern over whether the polls would unfold in an open and non-hostile atmosphere poured in from overseas, with just hours to go before the South Asian nation of 160 million people holds its first contested election in a decade.

Miller said all candidates and voters must be able to take part without "harassment, intimidation, or violence" and that an independent media must be allowed to cover the election.

Bangladesh stepped up security with thousands of army troops patrolling the streets along with paramilitary forces and police as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina seeks a record fourth term in Sunday's general elections. But barely visible are those of its opponents, many of whom, including BNP chairperson and three-time premier Khaleda Zia, have been jailed on what the BNP calls trumped-up charges.

"The government has lost moral support", BNP secretary-general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told reporters on Thursday, urging voters to "restore democracy". The ruling party denies the allegation.

But the survey of 5,000 respondents also found that Bangladeshis were losing confidence in democratic institutions and processes, with only 32 percent saying they believed this election would be free and fair.

Election at a constituency election has been postponed by the commission due to the death of a candidate. "We have done it to prevent propaganda and misleading content spreading on the internet", the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Opposition leaders have complained of violent attacks by ruling party supporters.

Also Friday, a local NGO reported that 972 violent political incidents had occurred between December 1 and 25, with a lot of them targeting the opposition.

The opposition party said hundreds more of its supporters were detained Thursday.

"Much work is still pending and it depends on the people casting a vote for us".

A respected Oxford-educated lawyer, Hossain emerged as an improbable opposition leader after a court disqualified Hasina's chief rival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, because she is serving a 17-year sentence for corruption.

Bangladeshi people walk along a street past a mural showing Bangladesh Awami League Party's president Sheikh Hasina and founder Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman portrait ahead of national polls in Dhaka. EPA
UN calls for ‘credible’ election in Bangladesh

US funded political observers who were scheduled to visit to monitor elections have been forced to cancel plans due to what Washington said was Bangladesh's "inability to grant credentials and issue visas within the timeframe necessary".

The opposition alliance has called the election a platform to protest the "undemocratic" rule of the incumbent government.

"We achieved victory on December 16 [1971]".

Hasina implored her supporters to stay at polling stations Sunday until the votes had been counted.

"We want every political party to contest in the election".

"However, it appears opposition party candidates have borne the brunt of most violence", he said in a statement after meeting Election Commission officials on Thursday.

Towards the end of November, the European Union and the European Parliament announced again that they would not observe the 11th parliamentary elections in Bangladesh.

According to Bangladesh's national election commission, there are some 104 million registered voters, divided roughly equally along gender lines. "Civil society and electoral observers should be fully supported to play their role in the process", the United Nations leader added through his spokesman.

The same day, the new USA ambassador to Bangladesh said he had met with the chief election commissioner and the rest of the commission because the United States was concerned "by the high level of campaign violence over the last two weeks".

"The violence during the campaign that has mainly targeted the opposition bears out their misgivings about unfair treatment", he added.

The U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh Earl Miller said opposition parties have been the target of most of the deadly violence that has tarnished the campaign.

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