Country Report Bangladesh January 1996 Main report

Political scene: The 145 by-elections are postponed--

By-elections had been due to be held in the parliamentary seats of the absent opposition members of parliament (MPs) within 90 days of June 20, 1995, the day on which the MPs' absence from parliament exceeded 90 consecutive sitting days (4th quarter 1995), ie by September 20. In what was seen in opposition quarters as another attempt by the government to play for time, a 90-day postponement to the by-elections was announced in August by the chief election commissioner because of the severity of the monsoon flooding (an "Act of God" under Article 123 of the constitution). This left them scheduled for December 15, just weeks before the general election itself was due (it must be held according to the constitution by March 1996).

The seats of the opposition MPs had been declared vacant by the parliamentary speaker in July 1995, although the original walkout from parliament had taken place in March 1994, followed nine months later by the en masse formal resignation of all 145 opposition MPs from parliament. The aim of the opposition's moves was to force the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) government to resign from office without having to defeat it on a vote of no confidence in parliament (an impossibility given that the BNP had a overall majority there) and hold a general election under the auspices of a neutral caretaker government. The opposition parties said that they would boycott any elections held while a BNP government remained in power. The government, led by the prime minister, Begum Khaleda Zia, refused to countenance the opposition's demands for its immediate resignation, dismissing them as an unconstitutional attempt to eject a democratically elected government from office before the next general election was due. However, Mrs Zia did say she would be prepared to hand over power to an interim government 30 days before the general election was due. For their part, the opposition parties, headed by the Awami League (AL), led by Sheikh Hasina, justified their stance by alleging that there had been irregularities in a by-election in Magura-2 constituency in January 1994, and that the government was riddled with corruption and incapable of holding free and fair elections.

--prompting the prime minister to ask for a dissolution of parliament

On November 22 the Election Commission (EC) formally announced that the by- elections would be held on December 15. Two days later Mrs Zia asked the president, Abdur Rahman Biswas, for a dissolution of parliament. This meant, according to the constitution, that a general election had to be held within 90 days. The government's decision to ask for a dissolution of parliament just before the by-elections were due to be held had been widely predicted, as the holding of so many by-elections followed so soon by a general election would have caused a number of law and order problems, as well as being a financial drain. On December 4 the EC set the date of the general election as January 18, just before the start of the holy month of Ramadan, when most of the population would be fasting. Nominations were to close on December 17.

© 1996 The Economist lntelligence Unit Ltd. All rights reserved
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