Boycott by alliance threatens Bangladesh elections

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The Independent Online

Bangladesh will hold general elections on 22 January, the Election Commission said, although a key political alliance has announced a poll boycott that analysts warn would render the vote meaningless.

The commission has also urged the military to help keep peace during the election period, after violent protests between rival political factions over the past few months left at least 34 dead. "The army will assist the law-enforcing agencies, when required, to maintain law and order," an election official, Abdur Rashid Sarker, said. "I hope there'll be no confrontational situations because nobody wants the country to head toward anarchy."

Troops have been deployed to maintain peace during previous Bangladesh elections. In December, they were ordered on to the streets to contain violent demonstrations.

The political alliance led by the former prime minister Sheikh Hasina said it would boycott the vote, claiming the interim government charged with organising the polls favours the alliance's opponents. Sheikh Hasina's new 19-party alliance wants the ballot to be delayed until electoral reforms, including the revision of a voter list, are complete and President Iajuddin Ahmed has stepped down.

The boycott has left the contest largely to a four-party coalition led by Sheikh Hasina's main rival, the former prime minister Khaleda Zia and her Bangladesh National Party.

Bangladesh has endured a months-long political crisis exacerbated by nationwide strikes and sometimes deadly protests called by Hasina supporters to urge electoral reform.