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Bangladesh: Waiting for a Stable Democratic Regime
By Nava Thakuria
Special Correspondent
Bangladesh Nationalist Party chief Khaleda Zia

As Bangladesh completes voting for the 9th parliamentary election on Dec. 29, 2008 evening, apprehensions arise whether a post-poll scenario can ensure a stable democratic regime at Dhaka. From local political analyst to advocacy group doubts have been expressed if the loosing political party leaders defy the poll outcome and come to the streets to stall the functioning of the government.

Initially though the election for the 300 seats Jatiya Sangsad was scheduled on December 18, which was declared by the Bangladesh chief election commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda during November first week the government, following the intense pressures from various parties, deferred it for 11 days.

The military backed care taker government earlier lifted the state of emergency on December 17 to enhance the political ambiance for a free and fair election. But even after all the positive developments enabling the South Asian nation for the most expected polls since 2001, the concern expressed in various forums that the outcome might not be able to lead for a constitutional regime in the Muslim dominated country of nearly 150 million population. The fingers have been pointed to primarily the political parties, which had already set a tradition to defy the mandate of the people that comes against their expectations and even resort to violence. The armed forces are also under suspicion that they too might not get ready to hand over the power to the elected government.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party chief Khaleda Zia remained critical against the care taker government led by Dr Fakharuddin. Lately she came out with statements that the government favoured a particular party (read Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina) to win in the election. Addressing her last public meeting in Dhaka, Begum Zia also pledged to work for the people of Bangladesh if voted to power. The widow of former Bangladesh President Ziaur Rahman, who leads the four party alliance (comprising Islami Oikyajot and Bangladesh Jamat-e-Islami) even sought people's mercy for mistakes she did during her tenure as the head of the government.

On the other hand, the other Prime Minister, Ms Hasina pledged to work for a prosperous, educated and digital Bangladesh if her party and the grand alliance (Mohajot) are voted to power. The daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (Bangladesh Father of the Nation), Ms Hasina presented a 'Vision 2021' for a developed Bangladesh in the election manifesto. She addressed her last public meeting in Chittagong before the curtain fall on poll campaigning on Saturday midnight.

The Awami League led grand alliance enjoys advantage, in a general understanding till the moment, over the BNP led four party alliance, as the Jatiya Party led by Lt. Gen. H M Ershad joined the former one. Once a dictator and later turned into an influential politician, Ershad has still some loyal voters in the country. He is reportedly expecting to be the President of Bangladesh if the grand alliance win the polls.

The Bangladesh Election Commission engaged nearly 13,00,000 people including over 5,00,000 polling officials and 650,000 security personnel (to patrol 35,000 polling booths) throughout the country. Over eight million voters had the opportunities to exercise their franchises to select their representatives out over 1,500 candidates (55 of them are women).

The apprehension was raised by a Bangladeshi political analyst, while speaking to this writer, he said, "What I apprehend that even if the AL led grand alliance win the polls with the magic number (151 seats), the BNP may not accept their defeats. They might go boycotting the Parliament and even their supporters could come to the streets to defy the governance."

The concern of the political analyst was echoed by a Dhaka based advocacy group too. Odhikar, a human rights organization, said in a recent briefing that election was the only option to restore a democratic government at Dhaka. It insisted that 'a popularly elected parliament can only constitute a legitimate government.' The group also appealed the political parties to pay respect to the verdict of the polls.

Even the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called 'all political parties to continue to demonstrate responsibility, participate fully and honour the will of the Bangladeshi people.' The UN chief also added that the political parties, irrespective of their performance in the elections, should work together in a spirit of dialogue and compromise to address the challenges facing by the nation, described his representative in Dhaka during a recent press meet. "A stable post-election climate will be vital for the effectiveness and sustainability of the nation's democracy," quoting Ban Ki-moon, his representative asserted.

The care taker government head Dr. Fakhruddin, while addressing the nation through the state-run Bangladesh Television and Bangladesh Betar aired on the previous night, expressed hope that the political parties would 'cooperate with one another after the election, avoiding hostility and conflict.' "Mutual respect, solidarity and flexibility are among the most needed attitudes," he asserted adding that the role of the political parties would be the most important part in the post-poll scenario.



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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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