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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 77

Election 2007 in Bangladesh: Doubts and speculations

By Sunita Paul

Just recently, Oscar DeSoto, a senior US State Department official said, "I trust that the people of Bangladesh will reject that option and work hard to protect its long tradition of democracy.’ This quite evidently proves that the people of Bangladesh will reject any military takeover or extra-constitutional rule in the country.

There is a well circulated question in the minds of the people as to whether the United States has any role to play in protecting democracy in Bangladesh from any extra-constitutional move in the wake of series failures of political leadership to resolve several national issues.

It is known to all that in recent months; Bangladesh has witnessed the unfortunate rise of Islamist militancy followed by people’s upsurge in demand of electricity and exorbitant rise in the price of essentials. Moreover, corruption of politicians has also come to an intolerable level, which has greatly tarnished the image of the country in international arena.

The US State Department official, commenting on the future of Bangladesh politics said, "While no one can forecast what may or may not happen in Bangladesh, I can say in general that whenever democracy comes under threat, the US can opt to use any number of tools, including diplomatic measures at multilateral organizations such as the UN or in bilateral relations, to express its concern about that threat."

The statement very openly expresses the willingness of Washington in seeing uninterrupted democracy in every country in the world. In case of anything unusual, certainly US will have to play certain role in putting pressure both through diplomatic measures as well otherwise. But, here is a valid question, which still could not get any answer.

On South Asian nation - Pakistan witnessed military coup in 1999 with General Pervez Musharraf becoming the chief executive of the country. Since then, there is no good news for reinstating democracy in that country.

Although Musharraf got repeated requests from the international community to restore democracy, possibly he very smartly managed to ignore these requests with his open offensives on Islamist militancy. Keeping this reality as an example, should anyone predict that similar type of regime could also emerge in Bangladesh, which might not spare Islamist radicals as well would even take very hard line actions against corruption?

Corruption is a big problem for Bangladesh. It is also well circulated that a large number of members of the ruling party, including some influential cabinet ministers became fabulously rich through limitless corruption. For example, Communication Minister Barrister Nazmul Huda turned into a neo-billionaire through corruption, and even many of his colleagues are angry on him for this. Several complaints were placed with the Prime Minister, which very surprisingly remained unattended or even ignored.

The only reason behind such silence of country’s Chief Executive about Huda may be because of his popularity in his own constituency. BNP believes that, if this man is removed from the cabinet, they will possibly loose that seat to an opposition candidate. But, certainly here comes a valid question. Should the people of Bangladesh afford to see these corrupt in power, just for the sake of another victory by the ruling party?

Prime Minister’s son Tareq Rahman’s friends are also increasingly becoming desperate in cashing millions of dollars through corruption. Hawa Bhaban is already an infamous name in Bangladesh, which although claims to be the political office of BNP’s Chairperson, it openly interferes in every business deals.

Gias Uddin Al-Mamun, is one of the hated names in Bangladesh, who, just because of being Tareq Rahman’s friend, became one of the richest men in the country from extreme poverty status.

In recent years, it is alleged that Mamun has also established links with Indian intelligence agency and he now plays an important role in politically guiding Tareq in taking extremely pro-Indian stand.

It was already reported in Bangladesh press that, Mamun maintains close relations with several Indian beauties, who are used by this man for gaining several favors for New Delhi from influential figures in Bangladesh.

Tareq according to reports is also a very potential prey for Mamun, which this young politician either fails to realize or simply ignores, because of some unknown fact. Mamun was the main figure in smuggling a few million dollars to Malaysia accrued illegally as alleged, from number of projects, which brought extremely bad reputation for Begum Khaleda Zia and her government.

Although some of the BNP leaders are now speaking against corruption, they too know for sure that, even Begum Khaleda Zia does not have the courage to arrest Mamun and send him to prison to face series of corruption charges.

There had been several hidden home quarrels between the mother and the son centering Mamun’s issue. Many of the political analysts in Bangladesh feel that, Tareq can even abandon his aspiration of becoming next front ranking figure in the country’s politics, but he will never be able to show even slightest red eyes to Mamun. Tareq is already surrounded by bunch of sycophants who are doing everything to screw up his and BNP’s political future.

Shortage of electricity is one of the biggest challenges for the ruling party in Bangladesh. Just recently, corrupt state minister for power, Iqbal Hassan Mahmood Tuku was moved to another ministry and a comparatively competent and honest man, a retired General, Anwarul Kabir Talukder was placed in the post.

Since taking over the new responsibility, Talukder is trying to find out ways and means to at least improve the situation, so that it does not remain as a great obstacle for BNP during the next general election.

But, there had already been reports that, several influential figures in and outside the government are frantically trying to sabotage his steps, just because, Talukder is not ready to let anyone get financial benefit from the deals of issuing permission to new applicants in establishing power generation plants in the country.

While many of the applicants are unwilling or unable to begin the productions in their proposed plants in less than two years, there are at least a number of applications, which have very categorically said that, once accorded permission, they will be even ready to begin the production in less than five months.

It means, if these applications will come under active consideration, BNP can show significant results to the people of Bangladesh, by greatly improving the power shortage issue. This will not only salvage their image immediately, but will also leave a very positive impact in the next general election. But, very surprisingly, some of the quarters within the government, including pro-Indian lobbies like Mamun, are doing everything to sabotage these, so that BNP turns defeated in the 2007 election.

Quite normally a question should come into the minds of the people. Being greatly benefited from BNP’s rule, why should Mamun now conspire against this party? The answer is although very simple, but extremely complex. According to reports, Mamun will receive a huge amount of money from Indian intelligence as well will continue to get more financial benefits from Awami League, if he can successfully screw up BNP’s electoral fate. So, naturally, here is not any question for Mamun of being loyal to his ‘friend’ Tareq or BNP, but his ambition is to add more millions in his foreign bank accounts.

On the other hand, main opposition Bangladesh Awami League, which has aligned with several leftist political parties, is seeing the election of 2007 as a point of winning. Several predictions and surveys did not show any positive news for the main opposition force to win, because of several factors. One of the key points is lack of people’s support towards the leftist political parties. It can be easily predicted that, in any of the future elections, leftists will possibly not be able to bag even three seats. On the other hand, the leader of the opposition Sheikh Hasina and the top leaders are already facing number of corruption cases, which they committed during their 1996-2001 term. People of Bangladesh can not simply endorse Awami League (AL) leadership as clean because, they too were indulged into serious corruption, whenever they got the power.

Such realities, very evidently prove that politicians are loosing people’s confidence in Bangladesh. And, this is the main reason of anticipation of third force coming in. Although the leaders of major political parties are openly saying that, there was no room for any third force to take over power in the country, or there was even no chance of any civil coup, it is well understood that, if the politicians will continue to fail, people might opt for some alternatives.

Meanwhile, some of the political analysts are seeing the chance of Islamist radicals, who might become the next force in power in Bangladesh. Dhaka’s leading tabloid Weekly Blitz published an analytical commentary as main item titled ‘Does Hamas like surprise await Bangladesh?’ In this item, USA Correspondent of Blitz tried to justify the involvement of Islamist radicals behind recent attacks on industrial sector in the country, as well a number of other incidents. It says, “While the various theories fall apart in whom they identify as the culprits, they do yield important insight in refusing to accept the riots as some sort of spontaneous uprising or an event that occurred without planning.

Whether they point to India, China, the AL or BNP, the majority of the country seems to agree with one official who, as reported in Weekly Blitz said, “A vested quarter at home and abroad planned the ransacking of garment industries to create an anarchic situation.” Exactly which “vested quarter” with bases both in Bangladesh and abroad might that be? No one seems ready to utter that name, although all logic points to only one group: radical Islamists.“

It further says, ” No one is pointing to the most obvious culprits and the only power sector with a track of de-stabilizing places like Bangladesh. In Iran, extensive social unrest preceded the Islamist victory. Islamist elements destroyed the centuries-old power sharing arrangements that made Lebanon a model of a stable and successful bi-religious state and gave Beirut the moniker, “Paris of the Middle East.” There might be little international agreement how to solve the Middle East conflict, but there is near unanimity that the chaos in Gaza enabled Islamist Hamas to build its power base there. The Muslim Brotherhood has been behind de-stabilizing efforts in Egypt, Jordan, and elsewhere. And today Islamist Iran proudly exports terror, as does its Lebanese lapdog, Hizbullah. On the other hand, India and China have been cooperating to maintain stability in South Asia, specifically in Nepal where both countries have been helping to fight Maoist rebels there.

So politically, who gains from Bangladesh’s recent labor unrest? Certainly, the AL does not, for they remain identified with labor unions and leftist coalitions that participated in the rioting.

Neither does the violence help the BNP since it seems to reflect the ruling party’s inability to maintain the social order. But a third political force does gain when the two major parties are weakened. Moreover, when social unrest prevails, a party promising a “new order” and claiming to be an untainted alternative can catch the attention of voters who might fail to focus on that party’s darker intentions. Weimar Germany’s collapse paved the way for Hitler and the Nazis, but one need not go back that far. The same thing happened earlier this year in the Palestinian Authority elections. Voters chose to ignore Hamas’s anti-peace platform, choosing instead to grasp at what they hoped was a lifeline to save them from a corrupt and chaotic regime. Now that Islamist platform has impoverished those voters.

Bangladeshi Islamists—and neither of the major parties—satisfy those who point to domestic and foreign elements conspiring together. They are also the only political force in Bangladesh with a history of initiating violence among the people in support of their political goals. They proclaimed last year’s terror bombings to be undertaken to implement Sharia as the law of the land. If social unrest and violence erupts periodically from now until the January elections—the bombings of 2005, the recent labor violence, and one or two more episodes before the voting—they might achieve that goal with a showing strong enough for them to demand the Law Ministry and rule that no law can be implemented unless it conforms with Sharia.

The Islamists who murdered Bangladeshi jurists and others throughout Bangladesh last fall promised that the violence would continue if it suited their objectives. History has shown that it is best to take them at their word. For in country after country and now in Bangladesh, they have not scrupled about sacrificing innocent victims to advance their nefarious platform. It would be foolhardy not to consider first an Islamist conspiracy behind this month’s and any future social unrest between now and the election.”

Quite certainly many of the major political parties in Bangladesh would simply blow away this prediction of Islamists capturing power. But, there is other side of the coin! Just during August last year, the entire country witnessed with utter surprise, the ugly fangs of Islamist radicals, when they exploded bombs in 400 places covering 63 districts out of 64 in Bangladesh. The State Minister for Home Affairs Lutfozzaman Babar categorically told reporters that, he will not simply say that Islamist radicals are eliminated completely from the country. Rather he showed his firmness in continuing the hunt for such people as well to execute the death penalty of 7 radical kingpins at the earliest possible time. On the other hand, extremist political parties like Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ), Hizbut Tahrir (HT), Zaker Party, Khelafat Andolan, Islamic Shashantantra Andolan (ISA) etc., are very actively working in winning people’s support. All of the Islamist political parties enjoy tremendous support and patronization from abroad. They already have drawn a comprehensive plan of continuing countrywide campaign in favor of Islamic Sharia rule. Moreover, Hizbut Tahrir openly denounces democracy terming it as ‘a law of evils’.

The political scenario in Bangladesh is not very much bringing good news for pro-democratic forces. Till now, there is not any great news on combating corruption as well. People are becoming increasingly frustrated. No one can precisely say what would ultimately happen. But, the only shine in dark line is the recent comments from different officials of the United States. They are although not very categorically rejecting the idea of emergence of third force or any military coup, but, from their comments it certainly becomes clear that Washington might not extend support to any undemocratic change in power in the small South Asian nation.

- INS + Asian Tribune -

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