| Awami League supporters protest in Dhaka. (Reuters)
Dhaka, Nov. 28: Unidentified activists set fire to three election commission offices in Bangladesh today as the 14-party alliance, led by the Awami League, began a new campaign to force the removal of the election officials whom they accuse of bias.
It was unclear who carried out the pre-dawn attacks on the election offices in the southern coastal districts of Munshiganj, Barisal and Khulna, police said. It was also not known if the attacks were related to protests in Dhaka.
Thousands of supporters, led by former Prime Minister and Awami League chief Sheikh Hasina Wajed, protested near the election commission offices today. Police and paramilitary troops erected barbed-wire barricades to prevent the protesters from marching into the offices. However, there were no clashes and no one was injured.
The 14-party alliance has accused the five election commissioners of bias in favour of Begum Khaleda Zia who completed her five-year term as Prime Minister in October.
The alliance demands that the commissioners be removed to ensure that the elections are free and fair. “We can’t accept the biased election commissioners. They must go,” Hasina said after announcing a new round of protests today. She said her alliance would step up protests, including a transport shutdown, from Saturday if her demands are not met.
Abdur Rashid Sarkar, secretary of the election commission, said today the “commission might consider changing the poll schedules if major political parties reached a consensus on this.”
“There is scope within the framework of the constitution for such changes, but it is the responsibility of the government — not of the commission — to initiate the process,” Sarkar said.
However, political analysts said a consensus between the Awami League and Khaleda’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was highly unlikely given the animosity between them.
Bangladesh is now run by a caretaker government, headed by the President Iajuddin Ahmed. Hasina has accused Ahmed of favouring the BNP.
Khaleda Zia has welcomed the election schedule announced yesterday, but Hasina has rejected it. At least 40 people were killed and hundreds hurt in countrywide transport blockades and other protests since late October.