DHAKA, Bangladesh — Thousands of fervent supporters of Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League party gathered in the capital, Dhaka, on Monday to denounce what they described as violent protests orchestrated by the main opposition party, escalating tensions as the country approaches its anticipated elections in January.
The rally followed days of clashes that erupted during anti-government protests, resulting in the tragic deaths of at least four individuals, including a policeman, and leaving hundreds injured. The demonstrations were organized by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who called for the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the transfer of power to a non-partisan caretaker government to oversee the upcoming general elections.
In response to the protests, authorities arrested over 1,000 people, including key opposition figure Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir. The opposition party declared a nationwide strike on Sunday and later called for three days of road and transportation blockades starting Tuesday across the country to protest the police action and arrests of their supporters.
Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, a senior leader in the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, explained in an online press conference on Monday that the blockade aimed to protest mass arrests and isolate Dhaka from the rest of the country until the opposition’s demands were met.
Leaders of the ruling party condemned the opposition’s call for a blockade, asserting that their supporters would also take to the streets. Quamrul Islam, a presidium member of the ruling party, criticized the opposition, stating, “They don’t believe in Bangladesh and the constitution, and they don’t obey the law and justice system. There can be no compromise or dialogue with them.”
Meanwhile, the Election Commission held a meeting with top officials from various security agencies to assess the situation. Jahangir Alam, secretary of the commission, stated after the meeting that intelligence reports and heads of law enforcement agencies indicated no significant obstacles to organizing the upcoming elections.
Bangladesh’s political landscape has long been dominated by the rivalry between the two major dynastic parties led by Prime Minister Hasina and former Prime Minister Zia. The country, a parliamentary democracy, has a history of political violence, especially in the lead-up to elections.
Hasina, seeking a fourth consecutive term, aims to continue her developmental agenda by implementing numerous mega projects. However, her administration has faced criticism for corruption allegations and human rights concerns.
The animosity between Hasina and Zia has persisted for decades. While Hasina insists that the elections should be held under her government’s supervision as specified in the constitution, the opposition argues that the elections won’t be free and fair, despite Hasina’s assurances.
Recently, Prime Minister Hasina claimed in parliament that the U.S. was attempting to remove her from power at any cost. The U.S. government has threatened to deny visas to individuals it deems obstructing the election process, including members of law enforcement agencies, as well as the ruling and opposition parties.
As tensions continue to escalate in Bangladesh, the nation anxiously awaits the resolution of the political standoff, hoping for a peaceful and democratic electoral process in the coming months.