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BNP drops Bangladesh poll boycott

By Mark Dummett
BBC News, Dhaka

Khaleda Zia
Ms Zia main election demands have been ignored

Bangladesh's former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has announced that her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) will take part in next month's elections.

She says her party will not boycott the 18 December vote as long as it is put back by 10 days.

The government has already agreed to that in principle.

Ms Zia had called on the army-backed caretaker government to delay elections by a month and lift its state of emergency, but it refused to do either.

Legitimacy

The government has pledged that the elections will be the fairest in the country's history.

But without Khaleda Zia's participation, many would have doubted their legitimacy.

Her BNP and its allies won a two-thirds majority in the last elections in 2001, so their decision to take part removes the last major obstacle to the polls being free, fair and credible.

Whether this means Khaleda Zia is more likely to be elected prime minister for a fourth time is doubtful.

The BNP remains popular but has become weak and divided during the past two years.

Many of its leaders, including Khaleda Zia and her two sons, were accused of corruption and jailed.

She was then freed on bail, but about 50 others are still behind bars.

Finding credible new candidates to fill their places is proving difficult.

Bangladesh's other main party, the Awami League, has been less affected by the crackdown on corruption, even though its leader Sheikh Hasina was also jailed for a while.

It has already agreed to participate in the elections and is confident of winning.

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