Bangladesh poll preparation in full swing

Kamal Hossain, a leader of the opposition alliance Jatiya Oikyafront, is pictured during an interview with Reuters in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on November 22, 2018. (REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain)
Updated 05 December 2018

Bangladesh poll preparation in full swing

  • At stake in the Dec. 30 election are all 350 seats in the country's single-body parliament
  • More than 2,000 candidates are expected to compete across 300 constituencies in this year’s race

DHAKA: More than 104 million Bangladeshis will cast their vote on Dec. 30 in a general election featuring all major political parties. 

The Bangladesh Parliament is a single-house legislative body with 350 seats, unlike India and the UK where there are upper and lower houses.

The election is mostly a two-horse race between the ruling Awami League (AL) and the main opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP). But the Jatiya Party (JP), led by former President Hussain Mohammad Ershad, and Islamic parties are expected to do well in their strongholds.

The BNP boycotted the 2014 election, which was also shunned by international observers and overshadowed by violence.

More than 2,000 candidates are expected to compete across 300 constituencies in this year’s race. 

Mohammad Asaduzzaman, from the Bangladesh Election Commission (EC), said there were 35,000 local election observers and representations from the US, France, Germany, Spain, Norway, Denmark and Japan to observe the poll.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina led her administration’s last Cabinet meeting on Monday, while the EC is finalizing nomination papers from aspiring lawmakers.

Candidates can officially begin campaigning from Dec. 10 but must stop a day before the vote, according to EC guidelines.

Prof. Dr. Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah, founder and chairman of the National Election Observation Council, said it looked as if all parties would engage with the electoral process.

“The opposition alliance, including the BNP, has taken a stand not to leave the election field whatever the situation is. On the other hand, the ruling party also wants to hold a participatory and inclusive election... both the parties at least ‘agreed to disagree’ which is the bottom line of multi-party democracy,” he told Arab News.

There were pockets of the country where votes would go to one party, he explained, but there were other areas where it was harder to predict the outcome.

“In many districts under Barishal, Chittagong, Khulna, Rajshahi and Sylhet divisions voting trends are very mixed and, in the capital Dhaka, it is always unpredictable since candidates originate from different parts of the country and join the poll race here,” he said.

Around half of eligible voters are male, according to EC statistics, and there are 2.7 million young people who will be casting a vote for the first time.

The EC proposed the introduction of electronic voting machines, but the BNP rejected the idea over vote-rigging fears.

To form the government, any political party or coalition will be required to secure at least 151 seats. 

Italian hostage freed after 3 years in Syria returns home

Updated 17 min 59 sec ago

Italian hostage freed after 3 years in Syria returns home

  • The man who disappeared traveled to Turkey in October 2016
  • An official said the man was kidnapped by a criminal gang

MILAN: Italy’s defense minister says an Italian who had been held hostage in Syria for three years has been released and returned to Italy.

Defense Minister Elisabetta Trenta late Wednesday confirmed Alessandro Sandrini’s arrival at Rome’s Ciampino airport and thanked Italian intelligence services for their role in his liberation. Details were not disclosed.

Sandrini, who is in his early 30s, disappeared after traveling to Turkey in October 2016, and wasn’t heard from for over a year. In July 2018, a dramatic video showed Sandrini wearing an orange jumpsuit flanked by masked men brandishing automatic weapons, appealing to Italy to help free him as quickly as possible.

A local government in Syria affiliated with the Al-Qaeda-linked militant group Hayat Tahir-al Sham said he had been kidnapped by a criminal gang.