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Embattled Bangladesh opposition forges new alliance

BNP forms alliance with centrist parties ahead of elections in bid to boost support after jailing of its leaders.

Bangladesh's main opposition party has forged an alliance with centrist parties, with an 82-year-old former foreign minister emerging as the main leader ahead of upcoming elections.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is hoping the alliance will help it boost its support and move on after a series of setbacks, including the jailing of its leader Khaleda Zia for corruption in February and the sentencing of exiled acting leader, her son, last week.

The Jatiya Oikya Front (United National Front) was formally announced in the Bangladeshi capital late on Saturday after months of negotiations among opposition parties.

Kamal Hossain, a former foreign minister and an eminent lawyer who drafted the secular constitution just after independence in 1971, has emerged as the main leader. 

"There is no alternative to a free and fair election," Hossain told a press briefing late on Saturday.

The new alliance issued a seven-point list of demands including the dissolution of parliament and the holding of free and fair polls organised by an interim government.   

"The launch of the Jatiya Oikya Front will go down in history as a turning point," senior BNP leader and former law minister Moudud Ahmed told reporters.   

'Sustain unity'

Analysts said the alliance with secular parties would boost the BNP ahead of the general election, which is likely to be held in December or January.

"The alliance has given BNP a wider umbrella with moderate parties," Ataur Rahman, a former professor of political science at Rutgers University, told AFP.   

"It will help overcome some of the setbacks it suffered recently following the court verdicts against its leaders and crackdown on its activists. The alliance may enjoy wider support from the civil society, professionals and journalists," he said.

He said the Hossain-led alliance could emulate Malaysia's example and rally behind an experienced political figure to pose a formidable challenge to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League.  

"But everything will depend on how they mobilise support from the grassroots and how they sustain their unity in the next couple of months," he said.

The exiled acting head of the BNP, Tarique Rahman, the eldest son of Zia, was last week sentenced to life in prison over a 2004 grenade attack on Hasina.

Hasina's party has been in power since January 2009 after a landslide victory over Zia's BNP-led Islamist alliance.

Hasina stormed back to power in 2014 after she won a controversial election that was boycotted by BNP and other opposition parties over fears the polls would be rigged.

Bikalpadhara, an opposition party, opted out of the new alliance, saying it wants the BNP to sever all ties with the country's largest Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami.


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