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  Asia-Pacific
Bangladesh Polls: Apprehension on Final Outcome
By Nava Thakuria
Special Correspondent
Ex-PM Khaleda Zia
Khaleda Zia (born 15 August 1945]) was the Prime Minister of Bangladesh from 1991 to 1996, the first woman in the country's history to hold that position, and then again from 2001 to 2006. She is the widow of assassinated President of Bangladesh Ziaur Rahman, and leads his old party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
Courtesy of Wikipedia

Bangladesh government may decide to lift the state of emergency more than a week before the general election, but there remain doubts, whether the poverty stricken country would find a stable democratic regime after the polls. The military backed care taker government had recently made it public that the nearly two-year old emergency would go from December 17 to enhance the political ambiance for a free and fair election in populous country. But a global research institute expressed apprehension that the South Asian country would get a stable regime in the post-poll scenario.

International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based forum, which tracks conflicts worldwide warned recently that the country's powerful military may not be ready to bow out of politics. After analyzing the pre-poll scenario of the country in details, the group said in its latest briefing, "Bangladesh's 29 December election will not return the country to civilian rule unless those with a stake in the vote – including the international community – ensure all registered parties
contest credible, peaceful polls." Titled as 'Bangladesh: Elections and Beyond,' it also briefed, the vote and an end to emergency rule do not equal democracy, but are necessary preconditions to the country's stability.

The India's neighbouring country has prepared for the polls to form the ninth Jatiya Sangsad (national parliament) on December 29.

Initially the general election for the 300 seats JS was scheduled on December 18, which was declared by the Bangladesh chief election commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda during November first week. Following the intense pressures from various major political parties, the government deferred the election for 11 days.

The political parties in general welcome the decision of the government on polls, though most of them objected the continuation of the emergency. The Khaleda Zia led Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Sheikh Hasina led Awami League even threatened to boycott the polls under the state of emergency. Begum Zia even declared in a public rally in Chittagong that the situation would only worsen, if an unacceptable election was imposed in the country.

The international community leaderships also supported their move arguing that an election under emergency would have little credibility. The United States and the European Union asked the government to lift the emergency ahead of polls. The US ambassador to Bangladesh, James Moriarty, commented that the December election 'would not be credible if the authorities kept restrictions in place.'

Same views were expressed by the European Union mission head in Dhaka Stefan Frowein and the commonwealth secretary general Kamalesh Sharma.

Odhikar, a Dhaka based human rights organisation released statements that the state of emergency was nothing but a state of fear, and an election to restore electoral democracy cannot be held under such circumstances. The rights body argued that 'emergency is inherently abusive, anti-human rights and anti-democratic and must therefore be totally lifted.' And there cannot be any credible and legitimate election, if it is held under the state of emergency, it asserted.

Bangladesh was taken under emergency in 2007 while violence emerged in streets of the capital opposing the leadership of Dr Iajuddin Ahmed (also the President of Bangladesh) as the head of caretaker administration October 29, 2006 (after ex Prime Minister Begum Zia stepped sown from her office on October 28 completing her full five-year term). Following the increasing protests by the grand opposition alliance led by Ms Hasina, the President declared emergency on January 11, 2007.

President Dr Iajuddin also stepped down as the caretaker government head and postponed the general election which was scheduled on January 22, 2007. The present care taker government took charge next day and the former central bank governor Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed was sworn in as the chief advisor (head) of the interim government.

The interim administration soon launched a massive anti-corruption drive under political and electoral reform mission, which resulted in more than 200 heavy weight politicians including two former heads of the government (Prime Minister) Khaleda and Hasina putting behind bars. Later both of them came out with bail and parole.

A care taker government, formulated with a special provision of Bangladesh takes charge for three months with one and only aim to conduct the general election in a free and fair atmosphere. Once the election is over the interim administration supposes to hand over the power to the newly elected government and resign. Amazingly this administration led by Dr Fakhruddin has already completed 23 months.

Initially supported by the major section of Bangladesh societies, the care taker government had slowly lost its popularity.

Later the interim government came out with the declaration of general election. In his address to the nation on September 20, which was broadcast by Radio and telecast by National Television, Dr Fakhruddin announced that the polls would be held under a relaxed state of emergency. He also assured that ' none of the Emergency Power Rules would be a hindrance to holding a free and fair election.' The chief advisor however insisted on continuation of the state of emergency until the polls were over.

Michael Shaikh, the Asia senior analyst of International Crisis Group said, "The political situation (in Bangladesh) is complex and fragile. Regardless of who wins the election, the next government and the opposition parties will face the challenges of making parliament work and contending with an army that wants a greater say in politics."

He also insisted that the caretaker government should lift the state of emergency by 17 December, as pledged, and not restrict rights and freedoms necessary for a credible election. The Electoral Commission must immediately start a public information campaign on voting procedures, and publish the results promptly and accurately. They should also avoid interfering with the election by putting security personnel in the polling stations, he added.

For the parties, the challenge will not end on polling day, said Rhoderick Chalmers, the group's South Asia deputy project director adding that managing a smooth transition to democratic functioning will require resisting the winner-takes-all approach and cooperating to tackle the serious difficulties the country faces.



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Nava Thakuria, who serves as a special correspondent for The Seoul Times, is based in Guwahati of Northeast India. He also contributes articles for many media outlets based in different parts of the glove, and can be contacted at navathakuria@gmail.com

 

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