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Bangladesh polls in danger

December 28, 2013

THE so-called war crimes trial and the execution of Abdul Quader Molla are not the only cause of Bangladesh’s current turmoil. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed has behaved recklessly, failing to realise how her actions are threatening democracy’s future in her country. Since 1996, interim governments had been supervising general elections, and the system seemed to work well. However, in 2011, through the 15th Amendment, Sheikh Hasina amended the constitution, abolishing the caretaker government clause. Her plea was that elections supervised by non-elected people had led to army takeovers. This explanation for army coups is too simplistic. There have been over a dozen military coups in the country since its formation, and an interim government was not necessarily in power when the military took over. The amendment has angered the opposition, and united parties that otherwise do not see eye to eye on many issues. Led by former prime minister Khaleda Zia, an 18-party alliance has decided to boycott the polls unless a neutral government is installed. Sheikh Hasina has offered to set up an all-party government without being specific — this has been rejected by the opposition.

Ms Zia hasn’t helped matters by calling for a countrywide ‘march on Dhaka’ movement, and asking people to prepare for it and force the Awami League government to quit. The opposition is determined there will be no election unless a caretaker government is involved, while Sheikh Hasina is equally stubborn. She has threatened strict action and deployed the army in nearly 60 districts. This is a recipe for civil war. The bitter rivalry between the two leaders has been a source of instability for Bangladesh. Both women have repeatedly taken recourse to crippling strikes that have often degenerated into violence, leading to loss of lives besides hurting the economy. The controversial war crimes trial has added to the schism in politics, and has polarised society. Those on trial now include two members of Ms Zia’s Bangladesh National Party. An indication of the vindictive philosophy that governs the trial was the prime minister’s declaration that Ms Zia would one day be tried for terrorism. Unless there is an agreement soon between the two sides, elections scheduled for January are as good as off.