The central issue seems to be the accuracy of the country's voter rolls, which has on it the names of 13 million people who shouldn't be there -- out of a total population of 150 million. The voter rolls also exclude most minority voters, though that doesn't appear to be as big a problem politically for either party. The best summary of what is happening is probably Naeem's at Drishtipat:
The controversy around Jan 22 elections center around few things:
i) Voter List: Subject of raging court battles for last 2 years. BNP defied a court order to update existing voter list (created by AL in 2000), and instead created a brand new voter list. An NDI survey found 13 million extra names on the Voters List. Minority voters (esp, Hindu+CHT Pahari voters) are of course wholesale missing from this list–– par for the course. The total voter count was 93 million, a mathematical impossibility from 2001 census. In face of mounting domestic/international pressure EC finally agreed to correct the voters list, but the work was incomplete when opposition boycott began.
ii) CTG (Caretaker Government): This was a system instituted after the 1996 vote-fraud marred elections, whereby, 3 months before each election the gov’t steps down, and a CTG takes over to conduct “fair”elections. This worked in 1996 and 2001, but by 2006, surprise surprise, the CTG itself has become super-controversial. The AL alleges it is now full of BNP partisans. After a long campaign to remove a partisan candidate, the chess move was placed by Iajuddin who took over as head of CTG bypassing the normal process. Since taking power Iajuddin proved to be a horrorshow autocrat. He repeatedly bypassed and ignored his advisors in taking decisions about voter list, election date and army deployment. A month ago, 4 of his advisors quit in protest. (link)
The two main political parties in Bangladesh are the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which leans Islamist, and the Awami League (AL), which has been historically more secular/left (though recently they have been making overtures to some Islamist parties). The BNP is currently dominant, but the AL has been putting pressure on them to run the upcoming elections fairly, and had been threatening a boycott unless the voter rolls are corrected. Drishtipat's Naeem and others have suggested that the inability of the two parties to negotiate a way to manage elections might well lead the military to take matters into their own hands in the next couple of weeks. That isn't a good thing, but clearly things can't continue much longer as they are.
About 40 people have died thus far in the violence that has accompanied the current political standoff. I'm crossing my fingers that, however, this is resolved, that number doesn't go any higher. Do readers have suggestions for readings that might shed more light on what is happening in Dhaka right now? I'm especially curious to see 'on the ground' blog reports of what is happening, if there are any.