December 10, 2018:
On Sunday, Bangladesh’s imprisoned former prime minister & opposition leader Khaleda Zia challenged an election commission order disqualifying her from contesting the upcoming general election, as she filed three writ petitions in the High Court here.
The development came a day after the EC rejected 73-year-old Zia’s appeals challenging the cancellation of her nomination papers by returning officers as she intended to contest the Dec 30 polls from three constituencies.
“We have sought a high court directive to overturn the ‘illegal’ Election Commission decision that disqualified her from contesting the polls,” Zia’s counsel Nowshad Jamir said after filing three separate writ petitions in the court.
The EC rejected her petition a week after returning officers scrapped the nominations of Zia and several other high-profile politicians, mostly opposition candidates, as they were convicted by courts on graft and other charges such as defaulting on bank loans or due to technical flaws in their nomination papers.
However, many of them were allowed to contest the polls as the EC reviewed their appeals challenging the returning officers’ decisions.
Most of the disqualified candidates were nominees of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its partners in the newly-formed opposition alliance National Unity Front (NUF), led by eminent jurist Kamal Hossain.
Bangladesh is set for a general election on Dec 30. The elections are crucial for the BNP, as it had boycotted the 2014 polls demanding a neutral non-party government and instead waged a violent street campaign in subsequent years.
The Bangladesh High Court earlier issued an order disqualifying Zia, who is now serving a ten-year prison term in two graft cases, from contesting the upcoming election saying those jailed for more than two years, with their appeals pending in courts, cannot contest polls.
Zia has been in prison since February this year when a lower court sentenced her to a five-year term in the first of two corruption cases. A special court in Dhaka ordered her appearance in a third graft case.
The Awami League government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, meanwhile, sought the court’s permission to allow a US FBI agent and two Canadian police officers to testify in a case involving the contracting of a gas field to Canada’s Niko Resources, allegedly in exchange for kickbacks during Zia’s 2001-2006 premiership.
The BNP abstained from the 2014 polls over its dispute with the ruling Awami League on the election-time government and emerged as the main opposition party outside parliament.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 27, 2018. Credit: Reuters/Eduardo Munoz
Political & Legal Obligations
Analysts say political and legal obligations have forced the BNP to take part in the upcoming polls as it could lose its registration with the EC as a political party if it abstained from elections for the second consecutive time, also facing structural erosion from within.
The party alleged on Sunday that several hundreds of its activists were arrested on false charges to upset its poll campaign in recent days even as the BNP remains in a state of disarray since Zia’s imprisonment.
BNP spokesman Rizvi Ahmed said the “renewed clampdown” came as the election schedule was announced last month while the party activists and leaders were arrested in “ghost or fictitious cases”.
Acting BNP chief and Zia’s “fugitive” elder son Tarique Rahman is also living in London ostensibly to evade the law. A Dhaka court recently sentenced him to life imprisonment for masterminding a deadly attack on a political rally in 2004 that killed 24 leaders and activists of the Awami League. Hasina narrowly escaped the attack.