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Bangladesh gears up for 'battle of begums'
Anisur Rahman in Dhaka
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December 27, 2008 13:47 IST

Bangladesh's 'battling begums' are on a hectic last minute campaign trail, which will end at midnight on Saturday, as the country's goes for its first general elections in seven years on December 29.

The two begums, Sheikh Hasina of Awami League (AL) and her arch-rival Khaleda Zia of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), who have dominated Bangladesh's political scene for more than two decades are in a torrid election spree, which they will wrap up with a televised address.

The elections are being held under unprecedented security measures with nearly 48,000 troops and more than 600,000 policemen deployed to guard the polling booths.

Around 81,058,698 voters with over 33 per cent of them voting for the first time would cast their votes to choose from a total of 1,552 candidates vying for the 300 seats in Parliament. The winner needs 151 of the 300 seats in the National Assembly.

The voting would be done for the first time under new digitized electoral roll made with the help of the UNDP to rule out 'ghost voting'.

Political analysts and punters are showing no clear favourites and the fight is expected to be a 'razor's edge' one, with a slight tilt towards Hasina's AL as her rival begum has to ward off anti-incumbency. Khaleda Zia was in power for five years prior to the take over by the army-backed regime.

The authorities, earlier, ordered extra security measures for the begums after reports of their exposure to militant threats.

Hasina ended her campaign at a public rally at Dhaka's Paltan Maidan on Friday evening from behind bulletproof glass for the first time while the elite Special Security Force (SSF) and other law enforcement agencies kept a sharp vigil.

Identical measures would be taken for Zia, who is set to address the last poll rally from the same venue later on Saturday.

According to an election commission notification, contenders will have to close their two weeks of hectic campaigns at midnight past today while the restrictions will continue till forty eight-hours have elapsed since the completion of vote casting.

"None will be allowed to convene, hold or attend any public meeting and no person will be allowed to organise or join any procession within the area of any constituency after midnight on Saturday," an election commission spokesman said.

He said a ban was imposed on movement of some types of vehicles across the country, from midnight of December 28 till midnight of December 29 and added that motorcycles would not be allowed across the country from 12 noon on Sunday.

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