By Ruma Paul and Sudipto Ganguly
DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladeshi lawmaker Ranajit Kumar Roy is one of hundreds of independents running in Sunday’s election, an unusually high number which the opposition says is part of a ruling party ploy to legitimise a vote seen by critics as a one-sided sham.
Many lawmakers and members from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League are among 436 independent candidates in the race that the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has boycotted for the second time in three elections.
This is the highest number of independent candidates since a 2001 election, leading to criticism from the BNP that the Awami League has propped up “dummy” independent candidates to try to make the election look credible.
The Awami League has denied the accusation.
A three-time lawmaker for the Awami league, Roy said he had decided to run as an independent thinking the candidate whom his party had chosen over him was going to be disqualified in a loan fraud case, although a court eventually allowed him to contest.
“How can I compete against my party? I have asked my supporters to vote for ‘boat'”, Roy said, referring to the Awami League’s symbol.
Nearly 2,000 candidates overall are vying for the 300 directly elected parliament seats, though the BNP is sitting it out after Hasina refused to resign to make way for a caretaker government to run the poll. She is set for her fourth straight five-year term.
Some 30 Awami League members of parliament are contesting as independents and another 35 gave up various party posts to fight on their own, said an Awami League spokesperson. In total, almost 80% of the independents are party members of various ranks, the spokesperson added.
Awami League’s Abdul Hamid is taking on party candidate and incumbent lawmaker Mokbul Hossain in a constituency in Pabna district, about 200 km (124 miles) west of the capital, Dhaka.
“It needs courage to contest against the incumbent member of parliament,” said Hamid, 72, who rose from student politics to a senior leader in the party. “I’m contesting to win, not to lose. I have been working for the people and that’s my strength.”
The International Crisis Group, an independent think tank, has said the election lacks credibility due to the absence of the BNP, which has called it a fake election.
“The way this election is being stage-managed by way of putting up dummy candidates as well as through horse trading of some politicians undoubtedly confirms our apprehension of a fake election,” BNP leader and former minister Abdul Moyeen Khan said.
The Awami League denied the charges and said it was the democratic right of citizens to contest elections.
Party member Tarikul Islam, from the northwestern district of Dinajpur, said he was contesting as an independent but Hasina was his leader.
“Our leader Sheikh Hasina has left the mandate to the people,” said Islam, standing against Awami League lawmaker and former minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali. “She said anybody can contest the poll.”
(Writing by Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by Krishna N. Das and William Maclean)