Bangladesh ruling party set to win polls even before votes cast

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh's ruling party is set to win most of the seats in an upcoming election even before votes are cast, nomination figures showed on Sunday, in a further blow to the credibility of the boycott-hit polls.

The government has been under intense international pressure to resolve a standoff over the general election set for January 5 amid a worsening of political violence that has left at least 80 people dead since late October.

The ruling Awami League is determined to go ahead with the polls, even though the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its 17 allies have vowed to boycott them unless Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina quits beforehand.

With poll nominations closing late Friday, the Election Commission said 154 seats in the 300-seat parliament have only one candidate each on the ballot paper, and 127 of the 154 are from the Awami League.

Awami League allies were contesting another seven seats alone, meaning the ruling party or its allies need only win 17 of the contested seats to win a majority and stay in power.

BNP vice-president Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury said the uncontested seats have "set a new mark in election fraudulence" in the country.

"It's totally farcical. The government is implementing a blueprint to rob the people of their voting rights," he told AFP.

"Bangladesh is creating new history in election scandal," the country's largest-circulation Bengali daily Prothom Alo said on Sunday.

The BNP and its allies demand that PM Hasina step down to make way for a neutral caretaker government to oversee the polls, as in the past.

Some 80 people have been killed since late October when the BNP-led opposition launched protests, strikes and transport blockades to pressure Hasina to resign.

The opposition, led by PM Hasina's rival Ms Khaleda Zia, has said it fears the premier will try to rig the vote in a country plagued for decades by coups and political upheaval, and vowed to boycott the poll.

United Nations chief Ban Ki Moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry called PM Hasina last week to stress the need for talks with the opposition to resolve the election standoff.

But PM Hasina has rejected the demands for her resignation and is determined to hold the poll as scheduled, insisting it is a constitutional requirement.