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Bangladesh Forthcoming Polls: A Preview

Bangladesh general elections will be held in the first week of January. However, Election Commissioner Anisur Rahman informed the media earlier this month that the exact date is yet to be determined. The current parliament expires on January 29. According to the Constitution, national elections must be held within 90 days before the five-year term of parliament expires. The 90-day countdown starts on November 1.

The contest is expected to be keenly watched by the United States, Japan, UK and European Union member states who have made several calls for free and fair polls that have irked the government and the ruling party, the Awami League.

Election Commission Preparations

The Election Commission has started preparations for the coming national election. The Election Commissioner Md Alamgir informed that the commission is considering sending ballot papers to the polling stations in the morning of the National Parliamentary elections.

According to a draft list of polling centres, the Election Commission will have to set up a record 42,350 polling centres for the next national election. In the last national election held in December 2018, there were 40,183 polling centres.

Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal said the commission does not want the deputy commissioners to have any bias while discharging their duties. Speaking to reporters at the EC office in the capital's Agargaon, he said the commission will take necessary action if it finds any DC working with bias.

Strategy of Political Parties

The ruling Awami League has commenced poll preparations with a significant rally by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who also visited her constituency Gopalganj 3, which she has consistently won with an overwhelming majority for the past four times.

It is widely perceived that the Awami League will return to power despite public resentment on economic issues and rights violations.

The Jatiya Party, the main opposition in parliament, is also making preparations to participate on its own, not part of the AL-led alliance.

The main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party or the BNP, is, however, in a quandary. In case the party participates in the polls that would legitimize the elections at a time when its top leaders have been sentenced over corruption and other charges and in jail.

BNP has maintained that they will boycott the upcoming election if it is held under the present government and is seeking a caretaker set-up. To put the government under pressure to accept the same, the Party has launched an extensive programme of rallies across the country, which have drawn sizeable supporters in the recent past.

The Hasina government, however, has rejected the demand, saying that the Constitution of Bangladesh does not prescribe a caretaker government as a prerequisite for holding general elections.

With the Constitution behind the Awami League stance, it is now up to the BNP to participate in the polls as there is unlikely to be a chance of meeting its demand.

Suppose the BNP continues with street protests alone and ignores the electoral issues involved to woo the public at large. In that case, it may lose out to some of the leaders participating as independents. At the same time, the Party will need to prepare for the polls, as the prospects for holding the same under a caretaker administration is closed.

Reports indicate that the Party is preparing to participate in the polls, but is continuing to mobilize the masses to cut back on support to the Awami League. Some reports indicate that the BNP has devised a three-tier candidate selection strategy. The top tier will include established party leaders, tier 2 will be second rung leaders and tier 3 for those who have been active during the one-point movement. In case a candidate from the top tier is arrested or disqualified, one from the lower tier will replace him.

How these strategies work out remains to be seen.

A major concern is poll-related violence, which has been a feature of polls in Bangladesh in the past and is expected to remain so now as well.

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