Bangladesh's Zia accuses gov't of rigging polls
The Dec. 29 vote will mark a return to democracy for the Indian Ocean country after two years of a military-backed government.
Bangladesh's former prime minister, Begum Khaleda Zia, has charged the government and her rivals with conspiring to rig Monday's parliamentary election, rhetoric that could set the state for protests and violence if Khaleda loses.
The Dec. 29 vote will mark a return to democracy for the Indian Ocean country after two years of a military-backed government that suspended many political rights.
A democratically chosen civilian government may attract much-needed aid and investment to the nation of more than 140 million, some 45 percent of whom live below the poverty line.
Khaleda alleges the government and Election Commission want to fix the results against her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). "They are conspiring to bring a loyal party and their stooges to power," she said on Wednesday.
"Also, they are trying to scare me out of the polls, and even to kill me," she said, referring to live grenades found this week near a spot where she addressed her supporters.
At rallies drawing tens of thousands of people, Khaleda has warned that if the BNP-led alliance loses, "the people will not accept" the outcome.
Her rival Sheikh Hasina, chief of the Awami League and also a former prime minister, said Khaleda "is now using scare tactics linked to the finding of grenades and making false accusations".
Hasina and Khaleda, who alternated as prime minister for 15 years through 2006, are principal contenders in the vote to replace the interim government, which took over amid political instability and violence in January 2007.
It cancelled an election due that month, imposed a state of emergency and launched a crackdown on corruption.
But expectations new political leaders might emerge under the interim authorities proved ill-founded, and Hasina and Khaleda, both detained for alleged graft, were released to ensure their parties took part in the polls to make them credible.
Eurasia Group as well as domestic political observers fear the parties and army may not abandon old habits.
"There are no guarantees that the losing party or the military will accept the election results," a Eurasia Group commentary said this week.
The interim authority, meanwhile, continues to promise things will go smoothly.
"I would like to reassure all that the election will be held on schedule and nothing, including security fears, can distract it," home affairs adviser (minister) M.A. Matin told reporters.
Some 2,000 foreign observers and around 200,000 local monitors will track the election process for fairness.
Reuters Last Mod: 25 Aralık 2008, 12:33