Bangladesh’s main opposition has ended its boycott of parliament four months after failing to win power in an election tainted by widespread allegations of intimidation and fraud.
Five lawmakers from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) became the last to take their oaths this week, including four late on Monday, the final day for swearing-in of MPs.
BNP spokesman Rizvi Ahmed said Tuesday that the party’s acting head Tarique Rahman, the eldest son of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia who lives in exile in London, made the decision.
“Our party decided to join the parliament at this critical time of national politics as part of our struggle to restore democracy, better treatment and release of Begum Khaleda Zia,” deputy leader Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said in a statement.
Zia, who has led the BNP since the mid-1980s, was jailed last year for a decade on corruption charges that her supporters say are politically motivated.
Her bitter rival for three decades, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, 71, was declared the landslide winner in the December 30 poll.
This gave Hasina, who has been accused of increasing authoritarianism and overseeing a crackdown on the opposition, a third consecutive term in office.
Hasina and 290 other MPs — mainly from the ruling Awami League and its allies — took the oath days after the election.
Hasina was later named prime minister of the South Asian nation of 165 million people for a fourth time in total.
But opposition MPs boycotted the ceremony, calling for a re-run of the elections — something Hasina has ruled out.
Hasina — an erstwhile ally of Zia, before the powerful women fell out — insists she won fairly.
Speculation in local media has claimed the BNP joined parliament as part of a secret deal to free ailing Zia and let her fly to Britain for better treatment.
Zia was taken to hospital in Dhaka early this month from her prison cell after lawyers said her condition had deteriorated in recent months.
The 73-year-old, who is diabetic and suffers from arthritis, was also hospitalised in October for treatment.
Zia was found guilty in February 2018 of embezzling money intended for an orphanage, a charge her outraged supporters marched against in the streets. The sentence was later doubled by the High Court.
Zia is appealing the verdict which prevented her from running against Hasina in the election. She is also fighting dozens of other violence and graft-related charges.
A widow of a military dictator who ruled Bangladesh in the late 1970s, Zia was prime minister from 1991-1996 and again in 2001-2006.