DHAKA March 12 (TNS): A Bangladeshi court granted bail on Monday to former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who was jailed last month for five years for graft, raising a chance her party might take part in a December general election.
Zia is a two-term prime minister whose bitter rivalry with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has defined Bangladeshi politics for years.
Their feud hangs over the run-up to a December election with Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) vowing to boycott the polls in a protest against what it has said was Zia’s unfair jailing on trumped up charges.
“The High Court granted her bail for four months,” Moudud Ahmed, a lawyer in the case and also a senior leader of Zia’s party, told reporters after the court ruling.
The decision to release Zia on bail could open the door to her party’s participation in the general election, party secretary-general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told Reuters.
“We can not say just now. Let our chief come out and then we will sit with her and we’ll discuss it,” Alamgir said.
“We are always in favor of elections, but there must be a congenial atmosphere.”
It was not immediately clear when Zia would be released from detention.
Earlier on Monday, Alamgir said an election without Zia would be “meaningless”. He also said that unless the judgment against her was overturned, she would not be able to contest the election even if she got bail.
Under Bangladesh electoral rules, anyone jailed for more than two years cannot contest an election for five years.
The BNP boycotted the last polls, in 2014, in a protest against Hasina’s scrapping of the practice of having a caretaker government oversee elections.
A boycott in December would again give the prime minister’s Awami League a clear run at power when the opposition could be benefiting from voter frustration with prices, unemployment, power cuts and anger over what many see as heavy-handed government tactics against opponents.
Another boycott would also dash any hopes of stability, and raise risks for the country’s garment industry, which accounts for 80 percent of exports, which could face disruption by transport blockades in the event of unrest — Courtesy Reuters