Bangladesh's Upcoming National Election

Bangladesh’s national election will now be held on December 30th, in response to the main opposition alliance’s desire to delay the election in the face of inter-party disarray. Bangladesh’s Election Commission decided to postpone the election by one week, despite the current tensions that are fostering in the country regarding the running candidates. Current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed is running for another term, and the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) announced on Sunday that they will be participating in this election in opposition to Hasina’s Awami League. The creation of an opposition alliance called the Jatiya Oikya Front is to ensure that the proper steps have been taken to protect the legitimacy of the election outcome under Hasina’s administration, which includes a demand for an “independent caretaker administration.”

The National Unity Front (NUF), also known as the Jatiya Oikya Front, is a recent addition to Bangladesh’s political spectrum. As an alliance comprised of multiple different political parties, including BNP, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD), and Nagorik Oikya, this entity was formed to protect the democratic process of this upcoming election. Dr. Kamal Hossein, a central leader of the NUF, stated last month, “This unity will form a peaceful government through the elections by suppressing the autocrats.” The NUF’s decision to take part in the election was met with vocal approval, from both current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed and Chief Election Commissioner Nurul Huda.

The Jatiya Oikya Front has seven demands regarding the upcoming elections, which include the creation of an interim government after the dissolution of parliament, the release of political captives, and the termination of false cases against opposition activists. More demands include Election Commission reform, no usage of electronic voting machine use during the election, and “the deployment of army personnel with magistracy powers 10 days before the national polls.” The purpose of these demands is to guarantee a credible election outcome, one without the unlawful influence of Hasina and her party. Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh National Party is one of the NUF’s key partners, a long-standing political rival of Hasina. Former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, the leader of the Bangladesh National Party, is currently imprisoned over two separate corruption charges. She was initially sentenced to five years for alleged corruption in the creation of her orphanage fund, which took place during her first term. Following an appeal to the High Court however, her sentence was changed to ten years. She was also given seven years for another corruption case regarding a charity she established in her late husband’s name. While Zia and the Bangladesh National Party say both cases are politically motivated, the Bangladesh High Court deemed her guilty.

The Awami League has refused the use of a caretaker government to ensure the credibility of the election outcome, to the dismay of the Jatiya Oikya Front. Analysts have said that, “the opposition was demanding the deferment so the tenure of the current parliament was expired to pave way for a polls time interim government.” The NUF is insistent on establishing an interim government during the election to ensure a fair outcome, which would require the dissolution of parliament. Hasina’s party is hesitant to allow this, stating that the use of a provisional government could lead to catastrophic “third party interventions.” The interim government established in 2007 is a prime example, which resulted in essentially a military takeover.

The Election Commission also recently cancelled the Jamaat-e-Islami party’s registration, which is a political party in allegiance with Zia’s Bangladesh National Party. This move keeps the party from contesting the election, furthering Hasina’s advantage. There have been concerns over the fairness of this election, due to the recent restrictive policies that have been passed in Bangladesh. The country has recently faced criticism over their new Digital Security Act, which severely limits freedom of speech and freedom of the media. Many are nervous that these restrictions will impact the ability of citizens to freely express their opinions of the election. Hasina’s increasingly authoritarian government has allowed for enforced disappearances of opposition activists and the arrest of government critics as well, only furthering the opinions held about the election’s integrity.