DHAKA,Bangladesh – Authorities in Bangladesh agreed Monday to delay national elections by a week because of opposition demands for more time to prepare.
Chief Election Commissioner K.M. Nurul Huda said officials decided to shift the date to Dec. 30 in response to the proposals by the opposition parties. The new deadline for filing nominations is Nov. 28.
The ruling Awami League party, its allies and some opposition parties welcomed the decision, but a major opposition alliance was unhappy because it wanted the elections to be deferred by a month. The alliance, called the National Oikya Front, consists of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and other parties.
The initial date for the election was announced last Thursday.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s five-year-term expires on Jan. 28.
Huda said he was happy that all eligible political parties have agreed to join the elections. Initially it was unclear if Zia’s party, which boycotted the last elections in 2014, would participate after she was jailed on corruption charges. But since it joined the new alliance, Zia’s party has attempted to regain its position.
On Monday, five top opposition leaders met with Zia in a jail in Dhaka, and said she asked them to contest the polls.
“Madam offered prayers and expressed hope that we will move forward with our unity with the people,” said Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, secretary-general of her party.
Hasina will head an election-time government as provided for in the constitution. The opposition has demanded an independent caretaker administration, saying the election could be rigged under Hasina, a charge she has denied.
Zia, 73, has been in jail since February, when she was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for alleged corruption in the establishment of an orphanage fund during her first term as prime minister in 1991-1996. Following an appeal, the High Court extended her sentence to 10 years.
In a second case, a trial court last month sentenced Zia to seven years in jail on corruption charges linked to a charity fund named after her late husband.
Zia’s party says both cases are politically motivated.
Zia faces more than 30 other cases pending in courts across the country.
Her elder son, Tarique Rahman, the heir-apparent in a political culture of dynastic politics, has been in exile in London for years to avoid arrest. A court last month sentenced him in absentia to life in prison in a 2004 grenade attack case.
The Election Commission last month canceled the political registration of Jamaat-e-Islami, the main partner of Zia’s party, which prevents it from participating in the election. Its leaders could contest with a different symbol under the new opposition alliance.
The court said Jamaat-e-Islami’s registration violated election laws and the spirit of the constitution because the party had opposed the country’s war of independence with Pakistan in 1971. The party is a fierce opponent of Hasina and is eager to regain its strength after the executions of its top leaders on charges of war crimes during the conflict.
The Dec. 30 polls would be Bangladesh’s 11th general election since it gained independence in the war.
Bangladesh has been a parliamentary democracy since 1991 after an autocratic government led by former military chief H.M. Ershad was toppled by mass protests. Hasina and Zia have since ruled the country under a complex political culture in which violence has often marred the electoral process. Ershad’s Jatiya Party is now a partner of Hasina’s party.