Bangladesh will hold a general election on January 7, the country’s chief election commissioner said Wednesday, a vote opposition parties have threatened to boycott fearing that it will be rigged.
“The 12th parliamentary election will be held on January 7 in 300 seats,” chief election commissioner Habibul Awal said in a live television broadcast, urging parties to hold talks to resolve the political crisis.
Opposition parties said they would hold a nationwide strike on Thursday in protest and warned the country was being driven towards “conflict”.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has led the South Asian country of around 170 million people for the past 15 years and has been accused of ruling with an iron fist.
She is seen as almost certain to return to power for a fourth time if the opposition boycott goes ahead.
Hasina has overseen impressive economic growth but Western nations have sounded the alarm over democratic backsliding and she has been accused by the opposition of vote-rigging at the past two polls.
Opposition parties have held major rallies calling for her to quit and for elections held by a neutral caretaker government.
Hasina has since launched a crackdown, with most of the top leadership of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) arrested as well as thousands of its supporters.
‘Pushed towards conflict’
Obaidul Quader, general secretary of Hasina’s ruling Awami League party, said the vote announcement was a “joyous day”.
The BNP, however, said it will boycott the polls.
So too has Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamist party in the 90 percent Muslim-majority country, and the Islami Andolon Bangladesh (IAB) party.
BNP spokesman Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, who is in hiding as he fears arrest, rejected the polls in a press conference broadcast online.
“That an election can be held under this government is a complete lie. We reject this biased election commission,” he said.
“I want to tell the election commission that the country has been pushed towards conflict.”
Thousands of IAB supporters marched on the election commission office in protest against the announcement on Wednesday.
Members said more than 10,000 people took part but police inspector Mizanur Rahman told AFP the numbers were around 3,000.
The election announcement came days after the US ambassador to Bangladesh, Peter Haas, sought meetings with leaders of the three major parties in a bid to break the political impasse.
Washington and the European Union have repeatedly called on the government to hold free and fair polls.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)