Unpredictable politics and early election in Bangladesh

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by Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, Bangladesh

Following fast decline in popularity due to series of high-profile corruptions in Bangladesh, the ruling Bangladesh Awami League reportedly is preparing to hold the next general election at least one year ahead of the schedule. Pro-government think tanks feel, such decision of pulling the schedule of the election is the result of the fear of the ruling party of facing "severe defeat" if they remain in the office for another one year, as the opposition is becoming increasingly acceptable to the voters due to its non-destructive political programs as well as people's anger on the ruling party due to its misrule and scandals of huge corruptions. Political atmosphere in Bangladesh turned extremely complicated while the hope of any election under the current government has become mission impossible, especially when the opposition political forces got the clear message of an engineered election by the ruling party, which is designed to continue in the office for another term of five years.

There are valid reasons for the ruling party of taking hard line policies of holding the election of much ahead of the schedule, as it sees severe legal consequences, including numerous corruption charges, once it loses power in the next general election, which is schedule to take place in January 2014. According to constitutional provisions, the current government will complete its tenure on December 2013, and should handover power to a neutral government, though the earlier provision of handing over power to an unelected caretaker government was already declared void in the national parliament of the country. Opposition is pressing its demand for restoring the caretaker government system fearing any election help under political government would only give absolute chances to the ruling forces in massive manipulation and election engineering. On the other hand, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who also heads one of the two major political parties in Bangladesh, has declared in the parliament that the next general election will be held under a government headed by the existing President, while the parliament will be dissolved and the cabinet will be dismantled. It may be mentioned here that, current President of Bangladesh, Zillur Rahman is a veteran leader of Bangladesh Awami League, who was elected into presidency by the ruling party.

The ruling party is accused of a number of high-profile corruptions and irregularities, which include, the infamous Padma Bridge bribe scandal, corruption centering quick rental power plants, exorbitant rise in the prices of fuel and electricity bills, looting of millions of dollars from the state-owned Sonali Bank by some unscrupulous businessmen in connivance of the influential advisor to the Prime Minister, mass fraud with the public by a number of fraudulent multilevel marketing companies namely Destiny Group, Unipay2U and share market scam, wherefrom, few people having alliance with the ruling party as well as opposition siphoned billions of dollars from the small investors.

It was already reported in local and international media that Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Federal Bureau of Investigation were investigating allegations of massive corruption centering Padma Bridge project. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police reportedly traced certain transfer of bribe money into various accounts in Canada and United States, while Federal Bureau of Investigation were investigating investment of few million dollars into various business ventures by one of the political elites of Bangladesh. The ruling government in Bangladesh had to drop the communication minister and advisor along with some high officials following World Bank's accusation of their involvement in high-profile bribe scams.

The ruling party also is accused of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances of hundreds of people, including some political heavy-weights. International human rights organizations have harshly criticized such extra-judicial murders and enforced disappearances in Bangladesh. According to figures released by local and international rights groups, few hundred people became victims of extra judicial murder while dozens of people became victim of enforced disappearances only during past twelve months.

Early election strategy:

While the ruling Bangladesh Awami League and members of its Islamist-Leftist alliances are taking preparations for holding the election, at least one-year ahead of the schedule, the ruling party has also adopted policy of increasing political repression on the opposition parties, while they also are following "zero tolerance" policy in regard to any criticism of the government. In past, many people were arrested on sedition charges for passing wrong comments on the Prime Minister, while recently an individual in one of the district town were arrested by the intelligence agency for expressing pessimism about the future of the country under the ruling party. In the history of Bangladesh, no individual were ever arrested on such silly charges in the past, which certainly exhibits clearly that the ruling Bangladesh Awami League is completely intolerant of any criticism or even negative opinion from the citizen or the members of the civil society. 

The naked exhibition of ruling party's intolerance of opposition opinion was during the recent press conference of the leader of the opposition and former Prime Minister, Begum Khaleda Zia. During the forty-minute press conference of the leader of the opposition to clarify their stand on the future election in Bangladesh, electricity connections at the office of the former Prime Minister were snatched off for eight times, thus putting the opposition leaders as well as the members of country's print and electronic media into total owe about ruling party's extreme intolerance and repressive attitude. By snatching power supply for eight time during forty-minute press briefing of the leader of the opposition, rulers in Bangladesh have left very clear signal to the people and the world that, it is unready to accept any minimal criticism of the government, as well it is ready to apply state-patronized repressive actions on anyone who would voice against the current government of the Islamist-Leftist coalitions.

Cabinet reshuffle:

Bangladesh Awami League led Islamist-Leftist government had a major cabinet reshuffle last week, placing veteran leftist and anti-West politician Hasanul Huq Inu in the information ministry, while one of the partners of the business enterprise of the former communication minister [who was removed following bribe accusation centering Padma Bridge] was included in the cabinet. The ruling party had earlier put another leftist leader in the industries ministry, which has greatly hampered country's foreign investment flows. After taking oath as the information minister, leftist leader Hasanul Huq Inu told media that the Prime Minister has included him in the cabinet to "combat the opposition leader" Begum Khaleda Zia. He also has influences the state-owned media in continuing anti-US propaganda following the outbreak of controversy centering the release of a film named 'Innocence of Muslims'. State-owned Bangladesh Television through its satellite and terrestrial broadcast are showing provocative clips of anti-US demonstrations in Lebanon, Palestine, Iran, Afghanistan and other Muslim nations. The state-run media has already turned into extremely hostile towards United States and the West, which reminds of the media in the former Soviet era – simply because of the political ideology of the leftist leader, who now holds the post of the information minister in Bangladesh.

The ruling party has also shunted out home minister Advocate Shahara Khatun and appointed former bureaucrat and scholar Dr. Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir in the ministry. The seasoned bureaucrat Dr. Alamgir entered politics in 1996, when he revolted the government and helped Bangladesh Awami League in ousting the government led by Bangladesh Nationalist Party. He was arrested, humiliated and tortured by the military backed interim regime in 2007 and Dr. Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir had expressed anger towards members of Bangladesh Armed Forces for their tendencies of killing democratic institutions and maligning politicians in the country by bringing concocted charges of corruption. The military backed interim regime not only arrested Dr. Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir, but also brought questioned accusations against his wife and children, which later had already been dismissed by the higher judiciary in Bangladesh.

Since Dr. Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir took the office of the home ministry, the overall law and order situation in the country has significantly improved, though political opponents of the ruling party believe he would take much repressive methods on the political opponents, members of the civil society as well as may even take revenge from some of the army officials, on whom he has personal grudge due to their past activities of arrest and torture of Dr. Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir as well as humiliating members of his family.

On the other hand, some of the political rivals of the ruling party consider Dr. Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir as a 'media friendly' individual, as well as one of the most competent members of the current cabinet. They even reject the apprehension of the new home minister's undue repressive attitude towards opposition political parties or the members of the civil society. But they feel Dr. Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir may use his influence within the civil and police administration in mobilizing these forces in helping the current government in retaining power during the next general election. It is even rumored that the recent massive changes in the district administration in the country was done following suggestions from Dr. Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir.

Early election:

Though some pro-ruling party intellectuals are openly advocating the idea of holding the next election in the country much ahead of the schedule, it is clearly signaled by the opposition parties that they would boycott any such election and would also reject the result of such engineered election. But the ruling party is not buying such threat from the main opposition party and its alliances as because intelligence reports clearly show that the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its alliance partners are "incapable and unready" for giving any tougher political programs in near future. The intelligence reports also said that Begum Khaleda Zia would only decide about her next political plans only after her upcoming visits to India, United States and China. During all of these trips, the former Prime Minister is expected to convince New Delhi, Washington and Beijing about the "friendly foreign policy" of her government in future, and would even make promises of cooperation favorable to those countries. Begum Khaleda Zia's party is seeking "cooperation" from Nobel laureate Dr. Mohammad Yunus, in fixing some appointments with high-profile political figures in the United States, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Barack Obama. During her US trip, Khaleda Zia may also meet leaders from Republican Party, including the Presidential candidate Mitt Romney as well as members of the US Senate and Congress. Dr. Yunus may also help Khaleda Zia is having exclusive interviews with a number of newspapers and television channels in United States.

During India trip, Begum Khaleda Zia will meet Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and some other political elites in New Delhi, while she also may have a short meeting with West Bengal's chief minister Mamata Bannerjee.

One of the top agendas of Begum Khaleda Zia's tri-nation tour will be to convince the leaders about her party's disagreement in participating in any future election, unless it is held under a neutral caretaker government. Some of the media specialists within Bangladesh Nationalist Party are working on preparing papers related to corruption, nepotism, enforced disappearance, extra-judicial murder and other irregularities of the ruling party in Bangladesh. Her media aides are also preparing fact sheet about repression of Hindus as well as demolition of temples and illegal occupation of Hindu properties in Bangladesh during the current government. Documents related to repression of Hindus will not only be handed over to Indian policymakers, but will also be handed over to mainstream media in that country.

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury





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