Bangladesh election officials on Wednesday began scrutinizing the nomination papers of more than 4,000 candidates vying for next month's national elections.
Hundreds of prospective candidates rushed to meet Tuesday's filing deadline to contest Jan. 22 polls, which a major political alliance had threatened to boycott if their demands for electoral reforms were not met.
On Wednesday, local administrative officials across the country checked the information of 4,146 candidates and their eligibility to run for one of 300 parliamentary seats.
Candidates have until Jan. 3 to withdraw their candidacies.
Many candidates filed papers to run as independents after failing to get nominations from their respective parties, the Election Commission said.
A 14-party alliance led by the Awami League did not put forward any candidates for about a third of the seats, as part of an understanding with other smaller parties that would boost its support base.
The alliance agreed not to contest 50 seats in favor of a party headed by former military dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad, and gave up 29 seats to a new party floated by renegades from its main rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. It also offered some seats to two minor Islamic parties.
The Awami League _ ignoring its 13 left-leaning alliance partners _ signed a deal over the weekend with a radical Islamic party, Khelafat Majlish, pledging to allow edicts by Islamic clerics and enact a blasphemy law _ if voted to power. Muslim-majority Bangladesh is now governed by secular laws.
Ershad, who spent several years imprisoned on various convictions after being ousted in a popular uprising in 1990, faces a return to jail after an appeal court earlier this month upheld a trial court verdict convicting him in a decade-old corruption case.
Ershad's Jatiya Party has threatened to pull out of the election if his candidacy is rejected by the commission because of his conviction.
In 1995, Ershad was found guilty of misappropriating 330 million takas (then worth about US$6 million) in a deal to purchase 520 Japanese boats in 1989. He was given a three-year sentence, which the appeal court reduced to two.
On Tuesday, the highest Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Ershad against the High Court verdict.
Later Wednesday, election officials rejected Ershad's application to contest polls in four parliamentary seats while his fate for the fifth seat was yet to be decided, the NTV television station reported.
Details of why his candidacy would not be accepted were not immediately clear. There was no clear explanation from the Election Commission about the decision.
Ershad's Jatiya Party in a statement said it would stage a general strike Thursday in the four districts where his applications had been rejected.
Top election official Mahfuzur Rahman, meanwhile, met Wednesday with top law enforcers and sought their support for maintaining peace and order during the polls.
Dozens of people were injured Tuesday as rival political factions engaged in sporadic street clashes during filing of nomination papers.
The alliance, headed by Awami League chief Sheikh Hasina, decided Sunday to take part in the January elections after the country's interim government met most of their demands following weeks of often-violent street protests.
The government sent two election commissioners on leave, whom the alliance deemed as biased toward their rivals, a four-party coalition led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. The election commission also began correcting a flawed electoral roll containing duplicate names.
Zia ended her five-year term on Oct. 28 and transferred power to a caretaker government to oversee fresh elections within the constitutionally stipulated 90 days.
Two months of repeated strikes and transport blockades staged by the alliance crippled the impoverished country's economy, and political violence left more than 30 dead and scores injured.