80 mn will vote as Bangladesh prepares to end military rule

80 mn will vote as Bangladesh prepares to end military rule

Sydney: Bangladesh completed a voter list containing the photo-identifications of more than 80 million people, the United Nations said, as the South Asian nation holds national elections next week that will end military rule.

No “ghost voters" were found on the roll during an audit by Washington-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems, the UN said in a statement on Wednesday.

The ballot is a “historic opportunity for Bangladesh in re-establishing democracy," UN envoy Renata Dessallien said, adding approval of the list by an independent team was key to helping ensure a free and fair vote.

More than 600,000 police and paramilitary officers will patrol polling booths for the 29 December ballot. They will guard against intimidation or rigging—problems that have dogged previous elections in the nation of 154 million people and led to the imposition of a state of emergency in January 2007.

Compared with lists during earlier voter registration efforts, the latest roll has effectively registered the universe of eligible voters in Bangladesh, the UN said.

The ballot comes almost two years after a military-backed interim government took power, pledging to end clashes between the two main parties after violence left at least 35 people dead and prompted President Iajuddin Ahmed to declare emergency rule, ban political activity and cancel elections set for January 2007.

Former premiers Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina Wajed are among candidates seeking re-election on a platform of fighting terrorism and cutting food prices. Zia, who leads the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and Hasina, head of the Awami League alliance, have dominated the country’s politics for the past decade.

The government lifted emergency rule last week to allow campaigning by more than 30 parties taking part in the ballot. Muslim-majority Bangladesh has been hit by attacks by Islamic terrorist groups in recent years. Security forces say they have arrested more than 1,000 suspected militants since a nationwide bombing campaign by the banned Islamist group Jamaat-ul-Mujaheedin Bangladesh more than three years ago.