By Ruma Paul and Zeba Siddiqui
DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladesh’s jailed opposition leader Khaleda Zia cannot run for office in next month’s election, the country’s top law officer said on Wednesday, increasing the uncertainty over the party’s prime ministerial candidate.
Khaleda, who has twice been the country’s prime minister and shares a long-standing rivalry with the current leader Sheikh Hasina, was jailed in February after being convicted for misappropriation of funds for an orphanage.
She denies the allegations and says it is aimed at keeping her away from politics.
Her ability to contest the polls has been in doubt since her incarceration but colleagues in her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have said they were hoping she would be released ahead of the elections.
With weeks to go for the Dec. 30 polls though, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said on Wednesday that, according to the law, even if Khaleda was released from jail, she would not be allowed to contest the polls.
His comments came a day after the Bangladesh high court ruled against petitions filed by five BNP members convicted of corruption who sought a stay on their sentences to stand in the election, Alam said.
One of the petitioners appealed that ruling at the Supreme Court, which has refused to intervene.
“So (Khaleda’s) case cannot be considered any differently,” Alam said.
The BNP’s secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam condemned the high court ruling in comments to local media, saying it was aimed at preventing Khaleda from taking part in the election.
The party plans to appeal the high court order at the Supreme Court, its lawyer Khandaker Mahmud Hossain said, adding that it continued to work on securing bail for Khaleda.
Hasina is widely expected to win the election, although analysts say the formation of a joint opposition alliance has meant the race would be more competitive.
The BNP has been in disarray since Khaleda was jailed and scores of its members have been detained and some convicted in recent months on charges it terms as fictitious.
If Khaleda is barred from running, it would be the first time the BNP will go to polls without her at the helm, Islam told reporters earlier in the week, breaking down in tears.
The BNP forged an alliance with three smaller parties last month, seeking to unseat Hasina from her decade-long reign.
But the opposition still does not have a clear prime ministerial candidate, and the alliance leader Kamal Hossain has said he is not seeking a ministerial post.
A decision on who should be prime minister will be taken after the opposition alliance wins, Islam told Reuters last week, adding the coalition had “several eligible candidates”.
(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Alison Williams)