DHAKA, Bangladesh – A small party led by a prominent Bangladeshi lawyer on Saturday forged a new alliance with the country's main opposition party that could be seen as a boost against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government ahead of national elections due in December.
Kamal Hossain announced at a news conference in Bangladesh's capital that he was building the alliance with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who is serving a prison sentence for a corruption conviction.
Top leaders from Zia's party and leaders from two smaller parties were present during Hossain's announcement of the National Unity Front.
Zia is an archrival of Hasina who seeks to return to power for a third time amid opposition allegations that the next elections could be rigged unless a non-party election-time caretaker government is in place.
Zia's elder son, who is the heir apparent, was recently convicted of conspiracy over a grisly grenade attack on a political rally in 2004 and was sentenced to life in prison. The son, Tarique Rahman, lives in London and would be arrested if he returned to Bangladesh.
Hossain's party has no popular support, but he is widely known globally and could be accepted by the upper and middle class in big cities in a parliamentary democracy often troubled by divisive politics.
Hossain's coming into Zia's fold could throw a considerable challenge to Hasina.
While Hossain announced the new alliance on Saturday evening, A.Q.M. Badrudduza Chowdhury, the former president, separately declared that he was staying out of the new alliance, as Zia's party has refused to leave the Jamaat-e-Islami party, which is a strong opponent of Hasina. Under Hasina, almost all top leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami have been executed in recent years for war crimes involving the 1971 independence war against Pakistan.
Chowdhury's staying out of the alliance would benefit Hasina.
The new development has come as a twist in Bangladesh's politics ahead of the elections, with the prospect for more new alliances in coming weeks as major parties woo smaller parties.
Zia was convicted of embezzling about $250,000 in donations meant for an orphanage trust established when she first became prime minister in 1991.
Bangladeshi politics are deeply divided, with rivals Hasina and Zia, both from political dynasties, alternately ruling the country since 1991, when democracy was restored.