Polls today amid boycott call

BangladeshA pro-government activist sets fire to a motorcycle during clashes in Dhaka. (Reuters)

Bangladesh holds a parliamentary election on Sunday, a contest boycotted by the main opposition, marred by violence that has killed more than 100 people and shunned by international observers.

Polls were due to open at 8 am (0200 GMT) and close at 4 pm, although with fewer than half of the 300 parliamentary seats being contested, the ruling Awami League was poised to sweep to victory.

The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) urged voters to stay away from the "farcical" election.

The impasse between the country's two dominant parties, which shows no sign of easing, undermines the poll's legitimacy and is fuelling worries of economic stagnation and further violence in the impoverished South Asian nation of 160 million.

Either Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina or BNP chief Begum Khaleda Zia has been prime minister for all but two of the past 22 years and the two are bitter rivals.

"These elections are in no way going to help resolve the stalemate we have seen in the past few months," said Iftekhar Zaman, executive director of global anti-corruption body Transparency International in Bangladesh.

"The parliament which will emerge will be one without an opposition and so there will be a very big legitimacy crisis."

Turnout was also likely to be crimped by fears of violence. More than 120 polling places have been set ablaze since Friday, an election commission official told Reuters. Much of the unrest has been in rural areas.

The election commission sent a text message on Saturday to voters saying their security was ensured and urging them to turn out. "Please go to cast your vote without any fear and hassle," it said.

Army troops have been deployed since December 26 to maintain order during the election.

The BNP is protesting against the prime minister's scrapping of the practice of having a caretaker government oversee elections. Many of its leaders are in jail or in hiding.

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