Bangladesh’s newly elected lawmakers took their parliamentary oath yesterday after an election condemned by critics as a farce and with feuding political leaders still locked in a deadly confrontation.
Led by Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, legislators from the ruling Awami League and lawmakers from her allies were sworn in, parliamentary spokesman Joynal Abedin told reporters.
The Awami League won 232 of 300 seats in Sunday’s parliamentary polls, which were boycotted by the opposition and hit by the deadliest election violence in the country’s history.
Analysts say the new assembly could be short-lived since Hasina faces a worsening political crisis and mounting calls for new polls from the international community and the opposition.
The opposition, led by two-time former Bangladeshi prime minister and opposition leader Khaleda Zia — who is under de facto house arrest — called for a nonstop blockade of roads, rail and waterways from Wednesday to topple the government.
The blockade was only partially imposed in the capital, with many activists behind bars after a crackdown before Sunday’s election.
A total of 153 Awami League members or allies were elected unopposed as a result of the opposition boycott, imposed over Hasina’s decision to change the electoral system. Hasina was later elected leader of parliament and will form a government by Sunday, her spokesman Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury told reporters.
After two weeks confined to her home, security was relaxed outside Zia’s house on Wednesday night, but it was unclear whether she would be allowed to leave.
Zia has demanded the polls be declared void and that new elections be held under a neutral government headed by a caretaker leader.
Amid mounting criticism of Dhaka’s muzzling of dissenting voices, a local court yesterday jailed a newspaper editor for seven years for trying to travel to Israel more than a decade ago to speak about Islamic militancy in Bangladeshi.
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, 48, who edits the Weekly Blitz newspaper, was found guilty of harming the nation’s interests through his articles, as well as trying to make a banned trip to Israel, prosecutor Shah Alam Talukder said.
The verdict came a day after another court indicted top human rights activists on similar charges for publishing “false” details of a police crackdown.
Choudhury was arrested in November 2003 at Dhaka airport as he tried to fly to a conference in Tel Aviv to present a paper on the emergence of Islamic militancy in Bangladesh, Talukder said.
Bangladesh does not have any diplomatic relations with Israel and the country’s citizens are banned from travelling there.
Choudhury’s writings were found to be “derogatory,” “seditious” and to have tarnished the country’s image, the prosecutor said.
Choudhury’s lawyer, Prokash Ranjan Biswas, said he would appeal as the verdict was “unjust” and based on spurious charges.
The editor’s pro-opposition newspaper and two pro-Islamist television channels were shut down last year after they telecast a police crackdown on an Islamic group.