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Sunday, 30 September, 2001, 07:03 GMT 08:03 UK
Deaths mar Bangladesh election
Bangladesh Nationalist Party Chairperson Khaleda Zia waves to supporters on the last day of the election campaign
Khaleda Zia's BNP has allied with Islamist parties
At least six people are reported to have died and more than 100 to have been injured in the latest wave of violence surrounding Bangladesh's general election.

The deaths have pushed the fatality count up to more than 130 since the start of the election campaign.

Bangladesh's former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina shows a victory sign during an election rally
Sheikh Hasina is hoping to be re-elected
The authorities have mounted one of the heaviest security operations in the 30-year history of the country in advance of Monday's poll.

More than 55,000 security personnel have been deployed to prevent violence.

There is much at stake for the two main parties - the governing Awami League, which was at the forefront of the country's war of independence, and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which was created by forces opposed to the Awami League in the late 1970s.

The vote comes at the end of the longest stretch of uninterrupted democracy that the country has experienced, and both parties have pulled out all the stops in their quest to win power.

Bangladesh
Independence in 1971
Seven general elections
300 parliamentary seats
75 million voters
The Awami League wants to be the first party ever to be democratically re-elected, while the BNP is seeking to re-occupy the position in government it held from 1991 to 1996.

The mutual animosity between the leaders of the Awami League and the BNP, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, is reflected among their supporters who have frequently clashed.

The outcome of the election in this polarised country could be close.

BNP's alliance

In the 1991 and 1996 elections, the Awami League secured more votes than their rivals.

Although the BNP won 40 more parliamentary seats in 1991, it failed to repeat the performance four years later, losing 30 seats to the Awami League.

Bangladesh soldiers
More than 50,000 troops have been deployed
This time, the BNP is leading a three-party electoral alliance with two Islamic groups that command the support of about 10% of voters.

If the year-old alliance works well, it could represent a serious threat to the Awami League.

The Awami League has been warning that Bangladesh will lose its secular Bengali identity if the BNP and its hardline allies are elected.

There was evidence of militant Islam in the campaign.

In some areas of Dhaka, pictures of Osama bin Laden could be seen alongside photographs of parliamentary candidates.

But the opposition alliance vehemently denies that it supports any form of militancy and has accused the Awami League of using gunmen to intimidate political rivals.

Third party

The chances for the revival of a third party do not appear good, but may be crucial to the formation of the next government if the main contenders fail to win a clear majority.

The Jatiya Party led by former ruler General Ershad held more than 30 seats in the two previous parliaments, but has been riven by splits and defections.

General Ershad has himself been disqualified from contesting the election because of a conviction for corruption.

But the huge popularity he commands in his home district in the northern Bangladesh may help his party maintain its third position.

Elections are being held in 299 seats of the 300-seat parliament. Polling in one constituency was postponed because of the death of a candidate.

The top nine leaders of the Awami League and the BNP are contesting 30 constituencies as the electoral law allows a person to contest up to five seats.

But since a candidate can only hold one seat, there could be a number of seats left vacant after the votes are counted, and it is expected that whichever party secures at least 141 seats will form the next government.

See also:

28 Sep 01 | South Asia
Campaigning ends in Bangladesh
23 Sep 01 | South Asia
Bangladesh rally bombed
07 Sep 01 | South Asia
Bangladesh poll line-up complete
17 Jun 01 | South Asia
Bangladesh hunts party office bombers
06 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Bangladesh
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