DHAKA, Bangladesh, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Bangladeshi voters cast ballots amid tight security Monday to elect a new government to replace the two-year rule of a military-backed interim government.
The country's two main parties -- the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by two women, both former prime ministers -- are contending for the votes of an electorate of more than 80 million as they try to achieve a majority in the 330-seat parliament.
Whoever wins faces a formidable task of leading a country that the Bangladesh Daily Star said "faces an ever-yawning gap between the rich and the poor, with the top 5 percent of the society taking a stake in 26 percent of the wealth and the bottom 5 percent trying to hold on to their dear 0.77 percent of the pie."
The BBC reported 50,000 soldiers and 600,000 police had been deployed to guard against election fraud and violence at some 35,000 polling stations.
The Awami League is led by Sheikh Hasina, while Khaleda Zia leads the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. The interim government had jailed both the women for alleged corruption but released them so they could contest the elections.
Hasina and Zia campaigned on promises to fight corruption and terrorism in the predominantly Muslim country, which -- before becoming a separate state in 1971 -- was the eastern wing of Pakistan.
The elections will be monitored by about 200,000 observers, among them about 2,500 from overseas.
The interim government, which took power in January 2007, has promised to make the elections the fairest and most peaceful election in Bangladesh's history.