DHAKA: Bangladesh’s opposition alliance Monday confirmed its boycott of a January general election, failing to register candidates before a deadline for nominations and plunging the country into renewed political uncertainty.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) announced the decision amid growing street violence that has left 52 people dead since late October and a series of strikes and blockades that have paralyzed large parts of the country.
“There is no question of us filing nominations for the January 5 election under the present circumstances. We’re not going to take part in the January 5 elections,” Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury, a BNP vice president, said.
Nominations closed at 5 p.m. (1100 GMT) Monday and officials said no BNP officials had filed their papers.
The announcement on Nov. 25 of the election date further fueled unrest, with 22 of the 52 deaths occurring since then.
Two people died on Monday in western Bangladesh during clashes between hundreds of BNP supporters and ruling party activists, police said.
Opposition activists have also tried to force a shutdown of public transport.
Dozens of rail services have been suspended after the activists uprooted tracks, torched coaches and attacked trains with petrol bombs, officials said.
Late Sunday a train was derailed, with seven coaches coming off the tracks, which blocked the line between Dhaka and the major cities of Chittagong and Sylhet, Bangladesh Railway traffic director Syed Zahur Hossain said.
Police have cracked down on BNP leaders, prompting many of them to go into hiding.
The BNP on Monday extended its 72-hour nationwide transport blockade until Thursday afternoon to press its demands, party spokesman Salahuddin Ahmed said in a video statement from an undisclosed location.
Chowdhury said the BNP and its 17 smaller allies including the country’s largest Islamic party would only change their minds on the election boycott “if the polls are organized by a non-party, neutral government.”
The BNP, led by two-times ex-premier Khaleda Zia, demands that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina quit and make way for a “non-party and impartial” chief executive to oversee the polls.
It believes any polls held under Hasina will be rigged.
Four free and fair polls have been held under caretaker governments in the past two decades, but Hasina scrapped the system in 2011 — arguing that it was unconstitutional and could pave the way for military coups.
The prime minister has instead formed an interim multi-party cabinet, which includes her allies.
Her Awami League and its ally Jatiya Party, led by former dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad, filed their nominations by the deadline on Monday, elections officials said.
Bangladesh has witnessed at least 19 coups since August 1975 when Hasina’s father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country’s founding leader, was assassinated.
Amid intensifying diplomatic efforts to calm the country’s increasingly violent politics, the United Nations rights chief Navi Pillay warned at the weekend that Bangladesh was “dangerously close” to a major crisis.
“Such levels of violence are deeply shocking for the Bangladeshi people, the vast majority of whom want — and deserve — a peaceful and inclusive election,” said Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The BNP has said it is still ready for dialogue to resolve the crisis but has accused the government of targeting its leaders.
At least eight senior BNP figures have been arrested in recent weeks on suspicion of instigating violence, police said.
Chowdhury said the eight along with hundreds of grassroots opposition activists were detained on “false charges” and most other leaders were now in hiding.
A senior UN envoy, the assistant secretary general for political affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, will visit the country from December 6 to try to broker talks between the major parties.
India is sending its foreign secretary, who is scheduled to arrive on Wednesday.
The year 2013 has been the most violent since the country gained its independence from Pakistan in 1971.
Death sentences passed on opposition leaders by a controversial war crimes court earlier this year, over mass killings during the independence war, sparked protests which left more than 150 people dead.