BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia attends a rally in Dhaka
Khaleda Zia, leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist party © Reuters

The leader of Bangladesh’s largest opposition party has vowed to carry on its campaign for fresh parliamentary elections under a caretaker government after a bitterly disputed poll in which fewer than half the seats were contested.

The vow by Khaleda Zia, leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP), followed the swearing-in this week of a new government led by her long-time rival Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister. Ms Hasina’s Awami League won a landslide victory in the January 5 election after a BNP boycott.

Ms Zia said her party would hold nationwide marches next Monday to press for a fresh ballot.

The build-up to this month’s election was marred by violence, with dozens of people killed in arson attacks, train derailments and police shootings. When the BNP attempted a mass rally on December 29, hundreds of people were arrested, and Dhaka was virtually cut off from the rest of the country.

Abdul Moyeen Khan, a BNP standing committee member and former economic planning minister, told the Financial Times: “We want the international community to emphasise democratic principles to this unrepresentative government.”

In the new government, Ms Hasina has given herself a far bigger role, and will run – at least temporarily – the defence, foreign, public administration and home ministries.

The role of official opposition in parliament now falls to the Jatiya party, which split over whether to contest the election.

The party’s founder, Hossain Muhammad Ershad, 83, a former military dictator, vowed to boycott the poll, and was taken by security forces to a military hospital, where he was detained for a period. His wife, Raushan Ershad, then led a faction of the party that did stand for election, and is now the official leader of the opposition. Upon his release from informal detention, Mr Ershad was given the role of the prime minister’s “special envoy”.

Ms Zia insisted on Wednesday that a future BNP government would ensure the embattled Grameen Bank – founded by the Nobel peace prize laureate Muhammad Yunus, the microcredit pioneer – would be kept intact, with Mr Yunus receiving “due honour”.

The BNP also blamed the ruling Awami League for growing violence against minority Hindus. The two parties and their leaders have accused each other of being “terrorist parties”.

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