DHAKA (Reuters) - The leader of Bangladesh’s main opposition party threatened retaliation if local elections being held this week are not conducted fairly.
Bangladesh has been marred by months of violence, much of it attacks against vehicles during transport blockades organized by the opposition. More than 120 people have been killed and hundreds injured.
Campaigning in the upcoming elections for Bangladesh’s two main cities, Dhaka and Chittagong, ends at midnight on Sunday, with voting on Tuesday. The elections are supposed to be nonpartisan, but both the ruling Awami League and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party directly supported candidates.
“We participated in the election as a test case to judge how far the government and the election commission are non-biased,” Begum Khaleda Zia, the leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and a former prime minister, said on Sunday.
The BNP refused to take part in last year’s general election, saying it was rigged.
Last week, Khaleda’s motorcade was attacked as she was addressing an election rally. Her own car was hit by gunshots.
“It was bullet proof car, otherwise that day I could be killed,” she said.
“My workers and supporters are constantly facing harassment,” said Tabith Awal, the BNP-supported candidate for Dhaka North City Corporation.
Out of 36 candidates for councilor in North Dhaka, legal cases were brought against 11 candidates for councilor, and three candidates were arrested, Tabith told Reuters.
Tabith had more than 100 volunteers and up to 300 workers when the campaign began, he said, “but now due to continuous harassment it came down to only five volunteers and sometime I don’t find any workers.”
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed has refused BNP demands that she step down. Instead, she has tightened her grip by arresting key opposition leaders and clamping down on media criticism of her government.
Bangladeshi politics has been mired for years in rivalry between Hasina and Khaleda. Both women are related to former national leaders and they have alternated as prime minister for most of the past two decades.
Khaleda, 69, faces charges of instigating the violence, which is estimated to have cost Bangladesh the equivalent of 0.55 percent of its national output.
Earlier this month, Khaleda was granted bail in two graft cases she is fighting. She denies any wrongdoing and says the charges against her and the BNP are politically motivated.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said in a separate press conference on Sunday the people of Bangladesh would not respond to Khaleda any more.”None will respond to the call of Khaleda,” Hasina said in an apparent reference to the BNP chief’s electioneering in favor of the BNP-blessed mayoral candidates.
Reporting By Serajul Quadir; Editing by Larry King