Dhaka: The Bangladesh High Court on Tuesday delivered a split verdict over whether imprisoned former prime minister and main opposition BNP chief Khaleda Zia should be allowed to contest the upcoming general election even as campaigning began for the December 30 polls.
One of the judges of the two-member High Court bench favoured Zia’s candidacy while the other ruled that she was disqualified from the polls for being a convicted prisoner serving a 10-year jail term in two graft cases, court officials and lawyers said.
“As the two judges could not reach a consensus, in line with the practice, they referred the matter to the chief justice who will now send the case to another bench for hearing the case,” an official said.
The ruling came after 73-year-old Zia challenged an earlier decision of the Election Commission to scrap her candidacy as the ex-premier filed nomination papers for contesting polls from three constituencies.
Senior judge of the bench Justice Syed Refaat Ahmed in his ruling asked the EC to accept Zia’s nomination and simultaneously sought the commission’s explanation on why its decision to scrap her candidacy should not be declared illegal.
But the other judge Justice Iqbal Kabir, on the other hand, blocked Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader Zia from contesting the polls.
Zia on December 9 had challenged the EC order disqualifying her from contesting the polls while the High Court had earlier ruled that those jailed for more than two years, with their appeals pending in court, cannot contest polls.
She has been in prison since February this year when a lower court sentenced her to a five-year term in the first of two corruption cases while a special court in Dhaka has ordered her appearance in a third graft case.
Meanwhile, formal campaigning for the polls started on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina began the campaign for her Awami League from southwestern Tungipara sub-district, the birthplace of her father and Bangladesh’s founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who was assassinated in a 1975 coup along with most of his family members.
Hasina is contesting polls from the Tungipara constituency while she is set to travel across Bangladesh to rally support for her party candidates and alliance partners, including former president H M Ershad’s Jatiya Party.
The Awami League’s arch rival BNP also launched its campaign in the absence of party chairperson Zia and her son and ‘fugitive’ acting chief Tarique Rahman.
Rahman is now living in London ostensibly to evade the law after a court sentenced him to life imprisonment for masterminding a grenade attack in 2004 that killed 24 Awami League leaders and activists.
The absence of the two top BNP leaders has pushed the party into a state of disarray.
The BNP had boycotted the previous 2014 polls demanding an election time neutral non-party government, and instead waged a violent street campaign in subsequent years.
Analysts say political and legal considerations have forced the BNP to take part in the upcoming polls as it could lose its registration with the EC as a political party if it boycotted polls for the second consecutive time even as it faces structural erosion from within.
The BNP recently joined the new opposition alliance National Unity Front (NUF) under the leadership of eminent jurist Kamal Hossain.