Bangladesh sets local election date despite protest

Bangladeshi Chief Election Commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda (REUTERS)

Bangladesh will hold elections to local councils in August, the election commission said on Friday, ignoring opposition from the main political parties which have been demanding that these be held after national polls.

The elections will be the first called by the country's army-backed interim administration ahead of the national elections set for December. Candidates for the local elections are not directly drawn from political parties, but they play a key role in selection of candidates for the national elections and act as a powerbase.

Chief Election Commissioner ATM. Shamsul Huda told a news conference that elections to four city corporations – Rajshahi, Barisal, Sylhet and Khulna and nine municipalities will take place on August 4.

Bangladesh has six city corporations and more than 300 municipalities. The elections to the rest of the councils will take place subsequently.

The government said it would relax restrictions imposed under a state of emergency in areas where the local council elections will be held to allow for campaigning. Bangladesh has been under a state of emergency since January last year when the interim administration took over after months of political violence.

Analysts said the country's two main parties, the Awami League headed by Sheikh Hasina, and Bangladesh Nationalist Party headed by Begum Khaleda Zia, fear that the local elections held at this stage will weaken their power base.

Hasina is currently in the US for medical treatment on parole from detention for alleged corruption while Khaleda is in a special jail also facing trial for corruption.