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By Steve Herman
Dhaka
27 December 2008

Campaign rally on a Dhaka avenue
Campaign rally on a Dhaka avenue
Campaigning has ended in Bangladesh ahead of Monday's national election. The army-backed interim government lifted the state of emergency to allow a two-week campaign period. At the forefront are two rival former prime ministers. They have concluded their campaigns with blistering attacks on the other.

The two women who took turns governing Bangladesh during a chaotic 15-year period concluded their respective campaigns with warnings of dire consequences should their rival return to power.

Bangladesh Nationalist Party supporters on a Dhaka sidewalk two days before the election
Bangladesh Nationalist Party supporters on a Dhaka sidewalk two days before the election
Addressing a huge rally in the capital, Dhaka, former prime minister Khaleda Zia said, as a mother, she urges the people to vote for her Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

Zia promised the crowd, estimated at 100,000 people, a prosperous future for the impoverished nation. She also mentioned her rival, Sheik Hasina, accusing her Awami League of systematically pushing the country into chaos and ruin during its tenure.

Hasina finished her campaign with a rally in the port city of Chittagong, promising a digital revolution for Bangladesh by the year 2021.

Former Prime Minister of Bangladesh and Awami League President Sheikh Hasina speaks at a rally in Daudkandi district, outskirts of Dhaka, 27 Dec 2008
Awami League President Sheikh Hasina speaks at a rally in Daudkandi district, outskirts of Dhaka, 27 Dec 2008
A day earlier, at her own massive rally in Dhaka, Hasina expressed disdain for Zia's time in office.  

Hasina says her opponent uses the slogan "save the country, save the people." But her corrupt legacy was one of "kill the people, grab the money."

Security has been tight for the candidates amid concerns they have been targeted for assassination.

There have been some physical attacks on local candidates, and police have seized some explosives and arrested some alleged terrorists plotting to disrupt the election. But overall, the level of reported violence has been lower than past campaigns.

The two women, known as the "Battling Begums" were freed from custody to contest the election. They had been arrested on graft charges as part of the caretaker government's bid to rid Bangladesh of its legacy of political corruption.

A third party leader, currently allied with the Awami League, former military dictator Hussain Muhammed Ershad, saw his motorcade attacked Saturday in the northern part of the country. Ershad, leader of the Jatiya Party, could hold the balance of power if neither of the top two parties wins a clear majority of parliamentary seats. Ershad, ironically, was ousted from power when Hasina and Zia joined to lead a popular revolt in 1990.

International monitors on the ground here say, so far, the process for this election seems credible. Officials of the interim government are expressing confidence violence will not seriously disrupt balloting by the 81 million eligible voters. 

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