Bangladesh opposition launches campaigns to postpone polls

BANGLADESH - The Bangladesh opposition party BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia yesterday urged people from every corner of the country to march towards the capital on Sunday to force the government to postpone the January 5 polls.

She asked opposition leaders and activists to form a resistance committee for each polling station to foil the "farcical" election and committees for "preservation of democracy and sovereignty" at district and upazila levels.

"To give our movement greater momentum and take it to the next level, I call upon all of you, irrespective of your political beliefs and opinions, to march to Dhaka on Sunday, the 29th of December," said the opposition leader.

This march is to say "no" to the farcical election and to say "yes" to democracy, she said during a crowded press conference at her Gulshan office.

On the formation of resistance committees, she asked her alliance members to involve all sections of society, including minorities, and remain alert to ensure their safety and security. "There will be zero tolerance for any form of communalism."

She also called upon her supporters to maintain law and order and protect the lives and properties of all citizens through formation of neighbourhood watch groups.

This announcement of the "March for Democracy" comes following a series of mindless blockades from November 26, a day after the Election Commission declared the polls date.

Till yesterday, the opposition enforced blockades of roads, rails and waterways for 22 days, crippling communications countrywide. Frequent clashes, arson blasts and killings took place almost every day, claiming at least 120 lives.

Only seven days were free from the blockades -- four Fridays, two holidays for Martyred Intellectuals Day and Victory Day and December 15 when the Jamaat-e-Islami enforced a hartal to protest the execution of convicted war criminal Quader Mollah.

Khaleda earlier had called another march towards Dhaka for the restoration of the caretaker government system.

The government imposed heavy restrictions and police joined by ruling party activists blocked roads, rail and waterways to stop opposition supporters from pouring into Dhaka on March 12 last year.

Yesterday, she warned the government not to obstruct Sunday's march by any means.

"Do not block roads, close down transport and hotels. Do not try to arrest or harass those coming to Dhaka. Allow citizens to exercise their fundamental right of peaceful assembly."

Otherwise, she said, the opposition would announce even stronger programmes.

Khaleda alleged the government was aware that people would rise in unison and this is why the timing of the "fraudulent election" and implementation of the verdict against Quader Mollah was "cunningly coordinated and was timed in a planned way to create diversion."

On Islamabad's expression of concern over the execution of war criminal Quader Mollah, she said, "The reaction of the Pakistani legislature on this has hurt us as citizens of Bangladesh."

She added, "The Awami League government had signed the Tripartite Agreement in 1974 and forgiven the Pakistanis accused of these crimes. Assurances were also given by them to look beyond past bitterness.

"After that all issues between Pakistan and us should be resolved through diplomatic channels. Any attempt to do otherwise is an expression of the diplomatic failure of this government.

"It's an issue with another country. It should be settled through diplomatic channels. But we notice that dirty politics is going on inside the country centring on a diplomatic issue."

On the January 5 polls, she said MPs who will be elected in the election will not be considered as legitimate representatives of the people as they do not enjoy any popular mandate.

The ruling Awami League and 11 other parties, most of which are components of the AL-led alliance, are contesting the polls. Amid a boycott by the BNP-led 18-party alliance, as many as 154 candidates are set to be elected uncontested.

The Election Commission decided to deploy the army for 15 days from tomorrow to work alongside other law enforcement agencies to ensure security for polling in the remaining 146 constituencies on January 5.

"Now plans are on to involve members of the country's armed forces in these illegal activities, said Khaleda. "The masterminds of the BDR

carnage and the planners of the Shapla Square massacre are now plotting to put the country's patriotic armed forces against the people."

She appealed to all those who are concerned not to involve the army in the "fraudulent election" and make it controversial.

Khaleda added the government which would be formed through the election would also not have any legitimacy.

"Such a government will be undemocratic and unrepresentative. No servant of the Republic is obliged to follow the orders of such an illegitimate government," she said.

"I appeal to all citizens and the voters of Bangladesh to boycott this farcical exercise. When the whole world has decided not to grant any legitimacy to it, when the majority of the people are not involved with this, I ask all those connected with the process to stay away from it also."

Referring to three-round dialogue between the government and the opposition through the initiative of the UN, Khaleda said it was now clear that the government had staged a drama in the name of dialogue to kill time to carry out its plans of holding the farcical polls.

"Despite knowing that no election is possible without the participation of the two main parties, the AL pressed ahead with its design to hold a one-sided election," she said.

Terming the incumbent government "illegal", she said the servants of the republic and citizens will not be bound to comply with its order.

Alleging that the government had turned what she said "invalid" much earlier, the former premier said her party did not bring down the government because it did not want to see a constitutional void in the country.

"This historic march will be to express your support for credible elections under a neutral non-party election time government."

She called it the "March for Democracy".

"I call upon you all to converge on Dhaka in this month of our victory waving our red and green national flag," said the former prime minister in her address.

"Come by road, by bus, by rail, by river routes and converge on the nation's capital."