Bangladesh's Awami League-led grand alliance suffered a major setback today when one of its key members announced a boycott of the general elections a day after the main opposition BNP decided against taking part, raising questions over the credibility of the January 5 polls.
Political violence during opposition protests for postponing the polls continued unabated, claiming five lives today and taking the overall toll to 35.
Jatiya Party, the country's third largest party and a key ally of the Awami League, said it would not participate in the elections, attributing its sudden decision to lack of "proper atmosphere". "It's final that we will not go to the polls," former president and chief of Jatiya Party, Hussain Muhammad Ershad, told reporters. "I promised earlier that I will not take part in the elections unless all major political parties contest the polls ... I kept my promise," he said. "I am not going to contest the election. The country is at the brink of disaster. We're heading towards uncertainty," Ershad said.
The former military ruler, said the party candidates who have submitted their nomination papers were asked to withdraw their candidature ahead of last date of withdrawal set by the Election Commission.
Ershad, who ran the country for nine years assuming power in a bloodless coup in 1981, has shifted his stance twice in the past weeks – once declining to contest the polls without BNP's participation and later revising his decision "in the interest of democracy".
Jatiya Party's decision came a day after the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its rightwing allies did not file nominations for the elections, sticking to their stance of boycotting the polls over the failure to form a neutral interim government.
Ershad's announcement came a day after the last date filing nomination papers expired.
With this development, Awami League is the only major party in the fray for the polls, raising questions over the credibility of the poll process.
The Awami League and BNP are at loggerheads over the system for conducting the polls. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has formed a multi-party interim set-up while the BNP wants elections under a non-party interim government.