10/25/2006, 00.00
BANGLADESH
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Still disagreement over electoral reform in Bangladesh

A caretaker government should take over on October 28 and run the country till the January 2007 elections. But the ruling party and the opposition alliance are still at loggerheads over who shall head the interim administration. Awami League is urging the population to take to the streets in protest.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – A few days before a caretaker administration takes over from the current Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-run government ahead of the January 2007 general elections, the country's political parties have not yet agreed as to who shall lead it. The opposition is protesting and its leader, Sheikh Hasina, is calling on the population to protest to get free elections.

Talks between the BNP and the Awami League (a 14-party opposition alliance) on electoral reform, which began early in the month, were postponed till after Idul Fitri, which falls today. The BNP has so far failed to respond to the AL's 31-point demands for "transparent" elections.

The main bone of contention remains the leadership of the caretaker government, which is scheduled to take over at midnight October 27.

Current BNP Prime Minister Khaleda Zia would like see former Chief Justice K M Hasan in that post. But the Awami League opposes the choice because it considers him too close to the controversial prime minister.

The opposition's demand for the removal of the chief election commissioner and his deputies, whom they say are biased in favour of the BNP, is another divisive issue. The Awami League has threatened street protest if its demands are not met.

In mid-October, the US Commission on international religious freedom went public with its fears that the January 2007 might be preceded and followed by violence.

Although PM Zia's administration has pledged to uphold law and order, "[u]nless there is a miracle agreement between the feuding sides the country is surely heading into a period of serious confrontation, violence and anarchy," said AKM Shahidullah, a senior political science professor at Dhaka University.

Given the situation, local newspapers are saying that Bangladeshi President Iajudin Ahmed has crucial role to play in helping the country come out of this crisis.

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