DHAKA: Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina launched her campaign for a fifth term today, as opposition parties called for civil disobedience and said the Jan 7 polls would not be fair.
“If I can form government again, we will turn the entire of Bangladesh into a prosperous and developed country,” Hasina told reporters in the northeastern city of Sylhet, kickstarting two weeks of campaigning ahead of the general elections.
“There will be no homeless and landless people,” she added, accompanied by ministers and top members of her ruling Awami League.
The 76-year-old is all but assured of winning the polls, with the opposition decrying what they condemn as a “farcical” vote.
Hasina has overseen impressive economic growth since she took over the country of 170 million people in 2009, but activists say her iron-fisted rule has been marked by widespread human rights abuses, including thousands of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.
The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) as well as Jamaat-e-Islami – the largest Islamist group – and dozens of smaller parties, say no election will be free and fair with Hasina in power.
“We urge the country people to stick to the demands for restoring democracy and boycott the farcical vote,” the BNP said in a statement.
The BNP has also called for civil disobedience across the country, asking people not to pay taxes and requesting election officials not to carry out their duties.
Opposition parties have been holding regular nationwide strikes and transport blockades to press demands for a vote under a neutral government, which Hasina has rejected as unconstitutional.
Hasina accused the opposition of carrying out a deadly arson attack on a train that killed four people in the capital Dhaka yesterday, and of sabotaging a railway track last week, which killed another.
“The BNP-Jamaat alliance has been continuing these extremist and terrorist acts,” she said, accusing top BNP leader Tarique Rahman of ordering the attacks from exile in Britain.
The police have also accused the BNP of the deadly train fire, charges the party has denied.
Police have arrested thousands of opposition officials and activists over charges of violence following protests that escalated on Oct 28, leaving at least 11 people dead and 376 vehicles torched according to official data.
The BNP says more than 22,000 of its leaders and activists have been detained, but transport minister Obaidul Quader said today that was “false” and that the number was half that, with “11,000 in jail”.