Thursday, January 1, 2009

Restoration of Democracy in Bangladesh

The army-backed emergency rule in Bangladesh has ended with a landslide victory for Awami League alliance led by former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the recently held parliamentary elections.Her re-emergence at the helm of affairs is significant in many ways.The voters have shown their disapproval of negative politics played by the defeated alliance headed by Begum Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party(BNP).The BNP leader,who was the Prime Minister when the army intervened to set up its own interim Government,tried to woo the electorate by creating a fear psychosis vis-à-vis India.The BNPand its key ally,the Jamaat-e-Islami of Bangladesh,rarely highlighted development-related issues in a nation where there are few employment opportunities and people are reeling under sky-rocketing prices.These parties could not provide a satisfactory answer to dispel the charges of promoting corruption at every step during the reign of Khaleda Zia.
The Awami League and its allies have won 258 seats of the 300-seat National Assembly because the people consider their leaders less corrupt.The BNP bagged only 27 seats,a stunning turnaround from their their landslide victory in 2001,when their four-party centre-right coalition won 193 seats. The Jamaat-e-Islami was wiped out in the December29,2008 elections with all their major leaders suffering humiliating defeats and the party garnering only two seats compared to 17 in the 2001 polls.The reversal of its political fortunes was so stunning that its chief,the former minister Moiur Rahman Nizami,Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammed Mujahid,and firebrand Delwar Hossain Sayeedee lost by massive margins.
Core Factors
The result of the present elections is a clear reminder that any party ignoring the issues of development and widespread corruption will not be spared by the politically conscious voters of the country.This is why the Awami League could manage to get absolute majority.The League manifesto stressed the need for a change to a corruption-free administration in which religious extremism will have no role to play.The people obviously found it appealing and gave their mandate in favour of the alliance headed by Sheikh Hasina.
Plagued by political as well as economic crises for years on end,the people of Bangladesh can only afford to be cautiously optimistic.considering the many false dawns the have witnessed in the past.In fact,ther is even a sense of déjà vu in the huge parliamentary majority now chalked up by Sheikh Hasina’s party.The BNP had won the 2001 elections by a similar margin.Since then the see-saw “battle of Begums” had led the nation from one crisis to another,as they took turns dominating its politics.Both claimed to be champions of democracy,but never thought twice about joining hands with radical Islamists to snatch power from each other.No wonder militant parties such as Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh and the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh gained as much importance in Bangladesh politics as parties like the original Jamaat.As a result,political parties became hostage to Islamists,and were forced to support terrorist organizations like Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami(HUJI) for their jihadi operations across the border in India.
Free and Fair Election
The outcome aside,Bangladesh witnessed an unusually free,fair andpeaceful election presised over by the army-backed interim administration.After January2007,when a scheduled election was cancelled,and the interim administration seemed intent on perpetuating itself and keeping the two major political players,Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda,out of the election picture,there were apprehensions that democracy was under threat.However,a cleaned-upelectoral roll---freed from legions of ghost voters and refreshed by the enrolment of large numbers of legitimate young voters---set the stage for a credible election process.
Relations with India
The people’s verdict for an Awami League-led Government reflects their desire for friendly relations with India.Sheikh Hasina stands for ending negative politics,which has been coming in the way of better relations with New Delhi.Both India and Bangladesh have their grievances against each other,but these can be redressed in an amicable atmosphere.Both countries will gain immensely by promoting a relationship of goodwill and trust.Bangladesh,virtually floating on a sea of natural gas,can be a major beneficiary by exporting gas to India and facilitating investment from Indian companies.India can also buy more merchandise from Bangladesh to improve ties between the two countries.Given goodwill and understanding between India and Bangladesh,mostbilateral problems can be solved without any difficulty.
The Road Ahead
Sheikh Hasina must embark on her new term as Prime Minister in the knowledge that all sections of the people have voted decisively for secular democracy and development and against religious fundamentalism and militancy.She must realise ,in all humanity,that Bangladesh has voted overwhelmingly for a change from the old ways. The outcome of the election offers an opportunity for Sheikh Hasina’s Government to mend fences with political rivals and together try to find solutins to the huge problems facingthe country for the last so many years.If that doesnot happen,chances are that the country will be back zero-sum politics,which, in turn,could prompt the military to intervene again.On its part,the international community should lend a hand by insisting that the political leaders of Bangladesh clean up their act and find non-partisan ways to support democratic institutions.

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