By Serajul Quadir
DHAKA (Reuters) – An alliance of opposition parties accused Bangladesh’s Election Commission (EC) on Monday of being biased in favour of the ruling Awami League Party after it rejected nearly a quarter of the candidates the alliance nominated for elections on Dec. 30.
The EC has rejected 205 of a total 900 nominations made by the Jatiya Oikya Front, or United National Front, a multi-party opposition alliance, said S. Farazi, press secretary of one of the parties.
“The EC has played a biased role in cancelling nominations, as almost no nominations from the ruling party were rejected,” said Mahmudur Rahman Manna, convener of Nagarik Oikya, a partner in the alliance that seeks to oust Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League from power.
Manna said the alliance planned to challenge the rejections in court. “Though we know we will not gain anything, we will not bow down to this injustice without a challenge,” he said.
The EC denied the charge of bias, saying that of a total 3,065 nominations received, 786 had been rejected for various reasons, including non-payment of loans or utility bills and criminal convictions.
Helal Uddin Ahmed, secretary of the EC, said it “had not yet classified numbers based on their political affiliations”.
Four sources familiar with the matter said dozens of rejected nominations were of breakaway elements from the Awami League who had failed to secure party nominations.
Mahbubul Alam Hanif, senior joint general secretary of the Awami League, said only five or six of its nominations had been rejected.
While Hasina’s government has won widespread global plaudits for letting in hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled persecution in Myanmar, its critics have decried Hasina’s increasingly authoritarian rule, the government’s handling of student protests this year and its crackdown on free speech.
The alliance of opposition parties had asked for a caretaker government to take over in the weeks heading into the elections. The Awami League rejected the demand, however, deeming it unconstitutional.
The main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), had similarly pressed for a caretaker government during the 2014 election and boycotted it after its demand was not met.
The BNP remains in disarray after the jailing of its head, former prime minister Khaleda Zia, on corruption charges.
Hasina and Khaleda, who between them have ruled Bangladesh for decades, are bitter rivals and the BNP says its leader has been jailed on trumped-up charges to keep her out of politics.
Nomination papers filed on behalf of Khaleda have also been rejected by the EC.
The BNP filed the nomination papers on Khaleda’s behalf despite a ruling last month that she would not be allowed to contest this month’s election.
(Writing by Euan Rocha; Editing by Gareth Jones)