Dhaka: Bangladesh stepped up security Saturday with thousands of army troops patrolling the streets along with paramilitary forces and police as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina seeks a record fourth term in Sunday’s general elections.
Security agencies have been asked to keep an extra vigil on religious minority communities during the voting on Sunday as media reports said at least three Hindu households were set on fire by miscreants between December 16 and 26, Chief Election Commissioner Nurul Huda said.
Law enforcement agencies in major cities are checking vehicles as part of their vigil as some 600,000 security personnel including several thousand soldiers and paramilitary border guards were deployed across the country.
Thirteen people have been killed and thousands injured in clashes between supporters of Hasina’s ruling Awami League and activists of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
The opposition parties have alleged that thousands of its leaders and activists have been arrested to weaken them. The Rapid Action Battalion or RAB on Friday night arrested eight people for circulating “provocative videos and rumours” on social media relating to the parliamentary election.
Video-making materials, laptops and mobile phones were seized from the detainees, officials said. Bangladesh Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Unity Council spokesman Kajol Debnath said minority community leaders held a series of meetings with the Election Commission and law enforcement agencies who promised to pursue a ‘zero tolerance’ policy against any attack or intimidation.
Prime Minister Hasina is seeking to return to power for a third consecutive time in the elections, the 11th since Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan in 1971.
Former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, 73, Hasina’s archrival and the head of the BNP, who is serving a 10-year jail sentence on corruption charges, has been barred from contesting the polls.
The BNP has stayed out of the parliamentary process since 2014 when it boycotted the general election over its demands for a poll-time non-party government. It has returned to parliamentary politics as part of a new alliance – National Unity Front (NUF) – that was cobbled together three months ago with eminent lawyer Kamal Hossain as its convener.
But the party is in a state of disarray in the absence of its two top leaders Zia and her fugitive son Tarique Rahman who is the acting party chief. Zia is serving a 10-year prison term on graft charges while Rahman is living in London ostensibly to evade the law as a court has sentenced him to life imprisonment for masterminding a grenade attack on a rally in 2004 that killed 24 Awami League leaders and activists.
Election Commission last week allowed hardline Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, a crucial ally of BNP, to contest the general elections, two months after it scraped the fundamentalist party’s registration.
Awami League’s election posters are plastered on walls and poles across the country but those of opposition candidates are barely visible as they alleged that the police have created an atmosphere of fear to debar their supporters from staging street campaigns.