Bangladesh's Parliament on Thursday rescinded a 15-year-old requirement that general elections be overseen by nonpartisan caretaker governments _ a move the opposition says could allow incumbents to rig the votes.
The ruling coalition of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pushed the constitutional amendment through Parliament with a vote of 291-1, well more than the two-thirds majority needed in the 345-member chamber. The opposition's 38 members abstained.
The caretaker system came under fire in 2007 after a military-backed caretaker government stayed beyond its mandated three months and delayed the voting by about two years.
Opposition lawmakers, however, argue the new rules will allow Hasina to steer the result of the next parliamentary polls due in 2014, and have vowed to protest the move by continuing a campaign of general strikes and street protests started this month.
"This will not be good for the future of our democracy," said independent deputy Fazle Azim, the only lawmaker to vote against the amendment.
Hasina has denied the move is aimed at allowing her government to rig the next vote.
"This is a historic moment for democracy," she told the Parliament after the vote. "We can't allow unelected people to oversee national elections."
Opposition leader Khaleda Zia, also a former prime minister, instantly rejected the changes to the charter.
"I am vowing to start a tough fight to protect the (voting) rights of the people," Zia, Hasina's archrival, told a news conference in Dhaka.
Previously, prime ministers transferred power at the end of their terms to a caretaker administration that oversaw new elections.
The provision was introduced in 1996 to prevent vote-stealing by incumbents, but the Supreme Court recently declared the system was at odds with the constitution's main spirit that the state be governed by elected representatives.
The South Asian nation has a history of political unrest. It has witnessed two military coups and 19 failed coup attempts since its independence from Pakistan in 1971.