The opposition Wednesday called a daylong general strike at the weekend to protest the government’s scrapping of Bangladesh’s system of holding elections under neutral caretaker administrations in a country prone to polling violence. Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir – acting secretary general of the Nationalist Party, which leads an opposition alliance – announced the nationwide strike for Sunday, saying the party had resolved to go all-out against the government plan.
The central standing committee of the Nationalist Party said earlier that the party would not join elections unless there is a caretaker government system for holding free and fair polls. Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, a Nationalist Party ally, also called a strike Sunday.
The opposition’s response came a day after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed said a ruling by Bangladesh’s top court meant the caretaker government provision of the constitution would have to be tossed out. She promised her government would strengthen democratic institutions, including the Election Commission, and introduce electronic voting machines to ensure the next general elections, scheduled for 2013, would be credible.
Bangladesh’s Supreme Court on May 10 ordered the caretaker governments be abolished, saying the introduction of the system in the constitution was illegal. But it suggested holding two more elections under the non-elected rulers and gave Parliament the authority to decide the fate of the caretaker government.
The caretaker government was introduced in Bangladesh’s constitution in 1996 amid mistrust between Hasina’s Awami League and the Nationalist Party and demonstrations by the then-opposition Awami League, which accused the ruling Nationalist Party of rigging the February 1996 general elections.