Leaders and supporters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the country's second largest political party, come under attack from supporters of the ruling Awami League in Dhaka on Dec. 15. (ucanews.com photo)
A church official has joined rights' defenders to condemn political violence ahead of Bangladesh national elections that has already left at least 10 people dead and injured many more.
The national poll for the 300-seat parliament of the Muslim-majority South Asian nation is scheduled to be held Dec. 30.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of the ruling Awami League-led Grand Alliance, in power since 2008, is seeking a third consecutive term.
The opposition alliance, Jatiya Oikya Front (National Unity Front) led by Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), is vying to return to power after more than a decade.
At least 10 people, a majority of them supporters of the Awami League and the BNP, have died in political clashes across the country since electioneering kicked off Dec. 10. Hundreds were injured and dozens have been arrested, most of them opposition leaders and activists.
"An election is a festival for democracy, but we cannot see any mood but fear," Father Anthony Sen, convener of Justice and Peace Commission at northern Dinajpur Catholic Diocese, told ucanews.com.
"Violence and deaths have instilled panic among people and they fear it will intensify in the lead up to the election."
The sorry state of electioneering is a result of politics of power and annihilation in the country, as well as failure of the Election Commission, the priest said.
"The Election Commission is supposed to ensure a peaceful, fair and credible election, so people can exercise their democratic rights freely and without fear," Father Sen added.
Nur Khan, a Dhaka-based rights activist, said there was every reason to doubt that the Election Commission has the capacity to hold a free and fair election.
The government had not shown a commitment to creating a level-playing field for campaigning, he added.
This year's poll is regarded as the first participatory election under a partisan government since Bangladesh returned to democracy in the 1990s.
Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan in 1971 after a nine-month war. However, it endured military dictatorships from 1975-1990.
The elections of 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2008 were held under neutral and non-party caretaker governments.
The Ruling Awami League scrapped a caretaker system in 2011, defying protests from opposition parties.
The BNP and its allies boycotted the 2014 election after the Awami League refused to reintroduce a caretaker administration, which saw the Awami League win by a landslide with more than half of the seats won uncontested.
This year's political violence showed Bangladesh has a long way go to democratize, said Dr. Shantunu Majumder, associate professor of political science at Dhaka University.
"Our political landscape is still dominated by power grabbing at any cost, so nobody expected to see an election without any violence," he said.
"The situation is saddening but it is better than the 2014 election, which was more violent and cost more lives."
Much will depend on whether the Election Commission can ensure the 2018 poll is seen as credible.