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Bangladesh on the brink

Bangladesh on the brink
As the contentious elections in Bangladesh near, the air gets hot with the necessity to deal with the ensuing political whirlpool engulfing our eastern neighbour. After the European Union declined to send observers for next month’s election there, even America has joined the chorus expressing disappointment with Bangladesh’s current political leadership, represented by the Awami League governmnet under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Recently US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, ‘The United States will not deploy observers for these elections. We remain prepared to reengage our observation efforts at a later time in a more conducive environment.’

‘The nation's political leadership, and those who aspire to lead, must ensure law and order and refrain from supporting violence, inflammatory rhetoric, and intimidation. The United States encourages all political parties and Bangladeshi citizens to participate peacefully in the political process. Violence is not acceptable because it subverts the democratic process,’ added Psaki.

As for India’s stand, minister for external affairs Salman Khurshid told Millennium Post in an interview regarding the political crisis in Bangladesh, ‘It is a tough situation in Bangladesh. There is a very severe divide in the two parties. An attempt was made for them to forge some kind of working relationship in order to see the elections through. But I think there has not been much progress in that area. There are judgments coming out of tribunals and courts constantly, which in a sense are inevitable, but which are leading to greater anxiety amongst the opposition. Whether that is right or wrong, that is something for people of Bangladesh to judge. But the situation there looks worrying.’

‘Sometimes statements are being made that imply that India has a vested interest there. But we do not have any such partisan interest. We don’t back anyone. If we have good relations with someone then we have them. My first meeting as foreign minister was with  Khaleda Zia. We do not choose one over the other, but if someone is friendly to you, then you too would respond accordingly and if someone is not then you wouldn’t respond to them. Such a relationship is reciprocal,’ added Khurshid making it amply clear that India has a slight corner for the present regime.

Despite facing huge criticism and opposition, incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed, of the ruling Awami League in Bangladesh has decided to go ahead and contest the parliamentary elections to be held on 5 January. Hasina’s victory in this election is already assured, even though the rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has deciding to boycott the elections completely.

This boycott means Hasina’s Awami League has to win 127 of 154 uncontested seats, which, out of the total 300 seats, are up for grabs. The election commission in Bangladesh had announced this in early December. Apart from these 154 seats, January will see elections for the remaining 146 constituencies. This means even before a single vote has been cast, victory is already guaranteed.

Reportedly at a weekend conference Hasina said, ‘Of course we will score goals as the field is empty. There is no goalkeeper and thus we will go on scoring goals.’ She was alluding to the predetermined victory for her party.

‘It is the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)’s fault.?If the party had joined the polls, candidates would not have been elected unopposed,’ added Hasina. Her refusal to contest and give in for a caretaker administration to oversee elections in Bangladesh has just added fuel to the fire.

Especially with the recent convictions in the war crimes tribunal, Hasina’s stance has incited the already charged up BNP to take to the streets and carry out violent agitations. According to reports, more than 100 people have been killed and hundreds more injured in the cycle of violence unleashed as a result of the opposition parties, including the Jamaat-e-Islami, are leaving no stone unturned to stonewall the January elections. ‘Security forces stepped up operations against the opposition earlier this month’, said Human Rights Watch.

‘Security forces and opposition militants are engaged in a vicious cycle of attacks that are leading to death, destruction and fear,’ Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in the report.
However, BNP is boycotting the elections over Hasina’s insistence that she will remain in office and fight the elections, wherein the former party isn’t even contesting. Their allegation is that Hasina is choosing to remain in power to disrupt their activities. This boycott will allow Hasina’s party to easily win 127 of 154 uncontested seats out of the 300.

Bangladesh’s political history has been coloured by three coups and several rebellions in the past after the country acquired independence from Pakistan in 1971 in a protracted liberation struggle. In 2012, the army in Bangladesh announced that it foiled an attempt by former and serving officers to topple Hasina.

On 12 December, Bangladesh executed Abdul Kader Mollah, a senior leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, the party aligned with the opposition BNP. Mollah was executed after being convicted for war crimes that took place four decades ago. The Supreme Court rejected his last-minute appeal sending him to the gallows. This was first of the executions after a tribunal was established in 2009. A year before that, Hasina’s party had campaigned to set up the tribunal before winning the last election.

As the current flux of bloodshed consumes the country,  there’s a distinct possibility of violence spreading all over Bangladesh as the political crisis deepens. Since BNP and its allies began protesting, they have resorted to blockading roads, ports and railways, their stated agenda being forcing Hasina to demit office ahead of the elections. However, in Hasina’s defence, the last local polls had seen BNP surge ahead, exploiting the pro-Islamic sentiments. That Hasina has not shown any interest in stepping down could be pinned on the fact that it is the opposition, and not the ruling secular regime, that could create a hurdles in the way of a fair and free polls.

Fledging under the burden of violent protests and constant killings, the nation is on the brink of an absolute deadlock, with the international opinion split in the middle over the electoral quagmire. What emerges is a worrisome scenario in this chaotic churning nation, as it braces for the 5 January polls.
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