DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) – Bangladesh’s Election Commission announced Thursday that the next national election will be held Dec. 23, despite the imprisonment of the main opposition leader.
Chief Election Commissioner A.K.M. Nurul Huda said in a televised address that all arrangements have been made to ensure the election will be peaceful. Candidates must file their applications on Nov. 19.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will head an election-time government as provided for in the constitution. The opposition has demanded an independent caretaker administration, saying the election could be rigged under Hasina.
It will be Bangladesh’s 11th general election since it gained independence from Pakistan through a bloody war in 1971.
Hasina’s arch rival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, is in jail on corruption charges. It is uncertain whether her Bangladesh Nationalist Party will participate in the polls. The party and its partners boycotted the last election in 2014, when Hasina returned to power with a commanding majority.
Zia has been in jail since February, when she was sentenced to five years in jail for alleged corruption in setting up an orphanage fund during her first term as prime minister in 1991-1996. Following an appeal, the High Court raised her sentence to 10 years. Zia’s party says the case is politically motivated.
Bangladesh has been a parliamentary democracy since 1991, when an autocratic government led by former military chief H.M. Ershad was toppled by mass protests. Hasina and Zia have since ruled the country under a complex political culture in which violence has often marred the electoral process.