Bangladesh’s upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for Jan. 7, were declared by electoral authorities on Wednesday. However, despite this announcement, the opposition has reaffirmed its refusal to participate in the polls unless the government transfers power to a caretaker administration.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has pledged free and fair elections, but the Bangladesh Nationalist Party led by Hasina’s archrival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, says they don’t trust the government.
The opposition party has held demonstrations across the country in recent weeks to demand a nonpartisan caretaker government be appointed for the election, leading to deadly clashes that have heightened fears of instability in the South Asian nation.
Bangladesh’s Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal announced Wednesday that the voting would be held on a single day on Jan. 7 in 300 parliamentary constituencies to elect members of parliament through direct vote.
“Consensus and solutions are needed,” Awal said in a televised address. “I humbly request all the political parties on behalf of the Election Commission to seek amicable solutions avoiding conflict and violence,” he said.
Hasina’s ruling Awami League party welcomed the announcement, but Zia’s party rejected the scheduled polling saying it would not join what it called a farcical election.
Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party held a massive rally Oct. 28 in Dhaka to call for Hasina to resign, but Hasina rejected the call. The rally turned violent when opposition party supporters clashed with police, and a police officer was killed.
Several more people were reported killed in clashes during ensuring days as the opposition party held strikes and blocked traffic. Many top opposition leaders have been arrested in connection with the violence.
The United Nations, the United States and the European Union have urged all sides to refrain from violence and work together to create conditions for a free, fair and peaceful election.
U.S. Ambassador Peter Haas on Wednesday met the ruling party’s General Secretary Obaidul Quader to hand over a letter urging dialogue to resolve the political crisis surrounding the election.
Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy with a history of violence, especially before and during elections. Hasina seeks to return to power for the fourth consecutive time through next elections.