BNP chief Khaleda Zia, convicted in two corruption cases, is currently in jail
The BNP is demanding the release of all of its incarcerated leaders and activists including party chairperson Khaleda Zia before the upcoming parliamentary election.
The country’s first female prime minister is serving two prison terms totalling 17 years after she was convicted in separate corruption cases in February and October.
“Create a level playing field - release our leader (Khaleda) and allow her to work,” BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told a rally of Jatiya Oikya Front in Rajshahi on Friday.
“Otherwise the election schedule will not be acceptable.”
Khaleda Zia’s convictions mean she will not be able to participate in the polls, which are slated for December 23. Her release has been a major agenda for her party, which is part of the new political alliance Oikya Front formed on October 13.
“Before she went to jail, she told us that she does not want any conflict and violence in the country,” Fakhrul said. “She directed us to stage peaceful demonstrations and forge greater national unity.”
Fakhrul told Oikya Front’s fourth political rally that Bangladesh is passing through a “dreadful phase”.
“Today, the question is whether there will be democracy in the country, whether Bangladesh will be able to survive as an independent and sovereign country, whether we will have our free speech, voting and democratic rights,” he said.
‘Joined hands to restore democracy’
Another top BNP figure, Gayashwar Chandra Roy, told Friday’s rally that leaders from various political parties have gathered on a single platform “to restore democracy in Bangladesh”.
“Will you (the people) be able to cast your votes in an election organized by the KM Huda-led commission with Sheikh Hasina in power?” he asked.
“If that happens, then Sheikh Hasina will be the prime minister for life and Khaleda Zia will remain in jail forever. Tarique Rahman will not be allowed to return. Will you go to polls with her (Khaleda) in jail?”
The BNP boycotted the most recent national election held in 2014 and risks losing its registration with the Election Commission if it also sits out the December poll.
Gayashwar said the BNP will not go to polls while Khaleda remains in prison.
“The prime minister has mocked the Oikya Front’s seven-point demand (but) Oikya Front will not participate in the election until its demands are met,” he said.
Dr Kamal Hossain, the top leader of the new political alliance, could not attend the rally due to physical illness but addressed the crowd in Rajshahi by phone.
“The election schedule announcement process, done in haste, goes against democracy,” he said.
Other leaders who spoke at Friday’s rally also urged the government to accede to the Oikya Front’s demands.