Unfazed by a boycott by the opposition, the Awami League-led alliance has decided to go ahead with the January 5 polls in Bangladesh even as premier Sheikh Hasina today asked the armed forces to be ready for any eventuality amid a BNP threat of "tougher" protests.
"The election must be held and the constitutional process will have to be continued," a senior Awami League leader quoted Hasina as saying at a late night meeting of alliance members.
Hasina said the polls will be held on schedule "whether anyone participates or not". She, however, added that if the polls were not held under any circumstances, "the government would follow the Constitution", the Daily Star newspaper reported.
Addressing the army top brass today, Hasina said the military should remain alert to face any eventuality. "We want peace, but you have to remain alert all the time to face any situation and we have to enhance our capability to this end," she said a National Defence College gathering at her office.
Her comments came after the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) did not field candidates within the deadline for filing nominations while the Jatiya Party of former military ruler H M Ershad, a key ally of the Awami League, yesterday announced it would not participate in the polls because of the lack of a "proper atmosphere".
The BNP issued a fresh ultimatum today, asking the interim government to accept its demands to install a non-party caretaker set-up by tomorrow evening. "Otherwise we will be forced to come up with tougher programmes to restore democracy," BNP spokesman Salahuddin Ahmed said.
India's Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh arrived here today to meet top Bangladeshi leaders amid the political uncertainty.
She met Hasina and "discussed issues of bilateral relations", the premier's press secretary Abul Kalam Azad said.
Earlier, she met Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali. Singh will also meet Leader of Opposition and BNP chief Khaleda Zia and Ershad.