12/29/2008, 00.00
BANGLADESH

Elections begin in Bangladesh amid tight security

At least 50,000 soldiers and 600,000 policemen are deployed to secure polling stations. Local and foreign observers are monitoring the process. Peace and stability are needed to attract foreign investments.
Dhaka (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Hundreds of people began queuing at the country's 35,000 heavily-guarded polling stations, which opened at 8 am (local time), to cast their ballot in parliamentary elections after two years of a military-backed caretaker government. About 50,000 soldiers and 600,000 police have been deployed to maintain security during and after voting.

The South Asian nation of more than 140 million has a history of rigged elections, sporadic periods of military rule, and politically motivated violence.

The outgoing army-backed caretaker government took over in January last year amidst violence and mutual charges of corruption by the country’s two main political blocks and cancelled an election due that month.

After a period of political clean-up, the two main blocks are back, headed by the same leaders, Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League and Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

To avoid election fraud, some 200,000 electoral observers, including 2,000 from abroad, are monitoring the vote.

Picture ID cards have also been issued to the country’s 81 million eligible voters after more than 11 million phoney names were purged from the old voter roll.

Although analysts have noted that voters are exited about casting their ballot, they are less hopeful about the results.

Ms Hasina and Ms Khaleda alternated in power for 15 years as prime minister but barely dented the impoverished nation’s huge problems.

Peace and stability are what is needed to attract foreign investments.

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