Will the elections in Bangladesh be fair and free?
Dhaka/Washington: Keeping impending national elections in view, it has been a season of Opposition-led political rallies in Bangladesh since October 2022. Going by the attendance they are generating, it has been a cause of concern for the ruling Awami League. With millions of people gathering in such rallies, the reasons for their success are manifold. The prime demand of the Opposition parties is the setting up of a neutral caretaker government to oversee the next general election in order to guarantee a free and fair vote.
It may be mentioned that the system of holding elections under a caretaker government has been a norm in Bangladesh. This neutral government rules the country for three months to conduct general elections. However, ever since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League came to power in January 2009, this practice of conducting elections under a caretaker government was done away with. The general elections since then, first in 2014 and then in 2018, were held under the Awami League and were boycotted by the main Opposition parties including Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The Opposition claimed large-scale rigging in those elections.
This time though, the Opposition parties have picked up the gauntlet to fight for a caretaker government and what is encouraging to them is that millions are gathering in their rallies in different parts of the country. The reasons for such huge support can be attributed to the economic factor. The country is grappling with inflation that increased by 10 per cent in recent months. Fuel prices, too, have been hiked by 50 per cent thus making the prices of basic commodities shoot up. Load shedding has become a daily feature in face of a crippling power crisis. While the common people have been hit hard by the power crises and spiralling prices, even exports have taken a beating as the value of the Bangladeshi taka has fallen against the dollar. The forex reserves of Bangladesh have gone down to $35.95 billion in October 2022 from $48 billion in August 2021.
Sensing their chance in view of the present economic crisis, the BNP has moved over to holding weekly processions and rallies across the country to capitalise on the anti-incumbency factor against the government. Another Opposition party, the Workers of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) too was not very far behind and on November 2, 2022, staged a protest rally in front of the National Press Club against electricity, fuel price increases, disappearances and murders. LDP leader Colonel Oli Ahmad also demanded the dissolution of the Jatiya Sangsad or the national parliament.
Earlier it was senior BNP leader Amanullah Aman who had announced on October October 8, 2022, that the BNP rallies would culminate in BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia and her son, acting Chairman Tarique Rahman “ruling the country from December 10”.
“If necessary, we will be martyrs but no election under Sheikh Hasina will be allowed. We will return home after ensuring the removal of this government,” he stated.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is not taking such protests kindly. She reportedly has warned the opposition if the BNP went superfluous in the name of an anti-government movement, then she would again send the 77-year-old opposition leader Khaleda Zia (a former prime minister) to jail.
As it is, Khaleda Zia has been staying at her house with limited access. Significantly, according to the United States State Department reports, her imprisonment is a political ploy to remove her from the political process. In Washington today, the US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price urged the Government of Bangladesh to create a safe environment for people to peacefully assemble and voice their concerns, and relatedly, for opposition parties to campaign without facing intimidation and repression. “We put, as you know, democracy and human rights at the centre of our relationships around the world, at the centre of our foreign policy. We as such regularly raise these issues with governments around the world, including the Government of Bangladesh…And in doing so we urge the strengthening of the democratic process and political institutions, adherence to the rule of law, and the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout Bangladesh for all Bangladeshis,” he said. With respect to the political process and the next election in Bangladesh, the US hoped for robust civic participation, “and the people of Bangladesh ultimately will be able to choose their own government through free and fair elections”.
– global bihari bureau