by Naim, Liu Chuntao
DHAKA, Dec. 22 (Xinhua) -- Political unrest is ramping up in Bangladesh, casting a shadow over the prospects for the impoverished South Asian country that has barely recovered from the aftermath of a series of man-made and natural disasters.
In a fresh step to derail the country's upcoming general election, the opposition parties called yet another four-day nationwide transport blockade from Saturday, demanding an interim non-party caretaker government to oversee the 10th parliamentary polls slated for Jan. 5.
It came just hours before the conclusion of a forth round of 72- hour blockade by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies, which was enforced amid violent clashes, arson and bomb explosions in capital Dhaka and elsewhere in the country.
In reaction, the Election Commission has decided to deploy army troops across the country for 15 days starting from Dec. 26, as part of the efforts to ensure the election is held as scheduled.
While declining to give the exact number of troops to be deployed, Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad said in some places with worsened law and order situation, the military deployment will likely exist for an even longer period.
The moves came amid mounting tension in the country with the opposition and a former key ruling party ally boycotting the parliamentary polls whereas the government insisting the vote will go ahead as planned.
WORST POLITICAL CRISIS IN DECADES
Just days after Jatiya Party (JP), an ally in Bangladesh's ruling coalition until last month, threatened to pull out of the general election, the leader of the party was hauled away on Dec. 12 from his home by elite anti-crime forces.
The detention of Hussain Muhammad Ershad, JP chairman and a former military strongman who served as the country's president for nearly nine years from 1982 to 1990, was widely seen as an attempt by the ruling Awami League (AL) to prevent him from withdrawing his party from the election.
HM Ershad announced earlier this month that his party will not take part in the general election, citing the lack of proper atmosphere as the reason. He also asked party leaders to quit from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's interim polls-time cabinet and withdraw their candidatures.
His action is feared to have further undermined the legitimacy of a ballot already being boycotted by AL's main rival, the BNP.
While the AL-led government is proceeding with steps to hold the polls being in power, the BNP and its 17 allies demand a non- party caretaker government to oversee the polls.
Khaleda Zia, the BNP leader and two-time former prime minister, has asked Hasina to bring back a non-party caretaker system, or else the opposition won't participate in the next election because it fears an election without the non-party caretaker government will not be free and fair.
As it is, the BNP's boycott means that more than half of the 300 parliament seats at stake will go uncontested, dimming hopes that an inclusive ballot could restore stability to this strife- plagued country.
The crisis has spilled onto the streets. In protest against the poll schedule announced by the Election Commission on Nov. 25, the BNP has enforced a series of countrywide road, rail and waterway blockades, which triggered widespread violence across Bangladesh that left over 100 people dead.
Although both parties sought dialogue to end the impasse over the formation of a non-party caretaker government, no headway has been made so far.
"Now we worry every moment because we don't know what will happen next," said a leading political analyst who preferred to be unnamed.
He said there is every reason to fear that worse is still ahead as even mediation by the United Nations has failed to yield outcome to end the political crisis, which is believed to be the worst in the country in decades.
UN Assistant Secretary General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco on Dec. 11 wrapped up his six-day Bangladesh visit with merely the hope that the "two major parties will continue discussions."