Unfolding events in Bangladesh


by Sunny
16th January, 2007 at 6:21 pm    

Time to move on to more serious events I think, more specifically about the situation in Bangladesh. First, Mash provides some background.

Bangladesh was scheduled to hold national parliamentary elections on January 22, 2007. However, those elections were postponed and a State of Emergency was declared by the President on January 9th. Now Bangladesh faces an uncertain future.

Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy with a largely ceremonial President. An unusual aspect of Bangladesh’s political system is that Bangladesh’s elections are held under a non-partisan Caretaker Government.

Late last year, the five year term of the government led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), a center-right party allied with right wing Islamist parties, ended and the prime minister, Khaleda Zia, handed over power to a Caretaker Government. However, the handover did not go smoothly.

As the opposition protests increased, he ordered the army onto the streets, ostensibly to protect the elections. The opposition parties, led by the Awami League, demanded the resignation of the Chief Advisor (President) and the postponement of elections.

Eventually, as the opposition parties boycotted the elections and began a program of nationwide strikes, international pressure began to build up on the President. The United Nations, the European Union, and other international election observers withdrew support for the elections and urged its postponement. Finally, under immense pressure, Iajuddin Ahmed resigned as Chief Advisor on January 9th. However, before he resigned he declared a State of Emergency.

Farhan, for the Drishtipat blog, also has a quick summary with pictures on what has been happening.

PP’s own Golmal Sid has been also covering the state of affairs, worried about the growing influence of power-hungry Islamist parties.

The endemic corruption within the ruling party which has benefited Tareq Zia (35), the son of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, to the tune of billions of (US) dollars that he has siphoned out of the country. Tareq happens to be an unelected party offiicial but wields more power than any other person in Bangladesh. He has single-handedly turned a democracy into a kleptocracy, whilst laughing all the way to the bank (which, at any rate, he controls).

The slow and steady growth of the Islamist political parties under the umbrella of Jamaat e Islami using the channels of democratic norms. Islamist political parties are playing by every rule in the democratic book and they are winning. They are well-organised, well funded and, thanks to their Islamic charity projects, have the most loyal vote banks.

He proposes something a bit more radical – that maybe letting democracy continue in its current, corrupt form will only make the country more susceptible to takeover by hardline religious mullahs. Should rule by the military continue while corruption is sorted out?

Another question that should be asked on microphones, amplified from every rooftop, in every village and town is – do we want democracy to be bludgeoned to death by these inept politicians only to let the Islamists in through the back door?

If Bangladeshis have one collective, national characteristic it is this: wilfull self destruction to prevent the other to get what they think they want. If democracy means the installation of the Islamists into the Dhaka Parliament, wouldn’t it be better to freeze the democratic project for Bangladesh entirely? File under “failed” for long enough at least to flush out the divisive gangrene of the BNP and the AWL?

Mash points out that constitutionally the country is on a cusp:

Bangladesh is in uncharted constitutional waters. According to the Constitution, the elections must be held within 90 days of the previous government leaving power, barring an act of God. The elections have been postponed and there is no constitutional provision to reschedule the elections. The President is now not accountable to the parliament or the people. The State of Emergency, according to the Constitution, will expire in 120 days. However, there is nothing preventing the President from declaring another State of Emergency to extend the current one.

Bangladesh is now at the mercy of one unelected President, one unconstitutionally appointed Chief Advisor, and 5 other unelected Advisors. Bangladesh is also now at the mercy of the military. Bangladesh has a long and brutal history of military coups and takeovers. It now stands at the mercy of the military once again. What has occurred in Bangladesh is nothing short of a constitutional coup d’état.

Rezwanul also has constant coverage.


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20 Comments below   |  

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  1. Vikrant — on 16th January, 2007 at 6:40 pm  

    seriously threats of Bangaldesh truning into another Afghanistan are overblown IMHO…

  2. Rezwan — on 16th January, 2007 at 6:43 pm  

    Whatever happened Bangladeshis are welcoming it. Apparently the army is behind this but presumably they will not risk the bad reputation of a dictatorship and loose the foreign currency revenue of about 10000 soldiers in the UN peace missions (14% of total peace keepers in UN). Moreover the Army apparently has no power hungry dictator and so far played a very good role. I have read somewhere that many including the opposition had requested the army to intervene.

    Like the recent blood-less coup-d’etat in Thailand the Bangladeshis are not against the army in this situation. This may be their only chance of restoring the functional democracy following the election.

    My detailed analysis here.

  3. Rezwan — on 16th January, 2007 at 6:47 pm  

    Vikrant: Exactly. The table has turned. The Jamaat, the only successful Islamic party who gained 5% of Vote last year (This year they could get upto 10% vote) has declared that they will consider the changed situation before joining the polls and they may not participate. Hallelujah!

  4. Rezwan — on 16th January, 2007 at 6:48 pm  

    read –>5% of Vote last election (2001).

  5. Tanvir — on 16th January, 2007 at 7:54 pm  

    What prompted this new direction is the fact that the initially planned elections may lack credibility.

    It has more to do with the major political alliances wanting to win no matter what.

    The pivotal factor for these elections is General Ershad and his Jatiya Party. He holds the next biggest vote bank after the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist party. Ershad initially planned to join forces with the BNP and the Awami League was out for all out disruption, with the view that more disruption and successful disruption would be a sign of strength.

    When Ershad turned his back on BNP and joined the Awami League the Awami League had the trump card, they were all for going to elections – it is only when the BNP instigated a court case against Ershad to come to court, and a subsequent chain of events that led to Ershad being disqualified from contesting the elections – the Awami League changed their mind and decided to boycott the elections and the nation was headed for a stalemate.

    It looks as though everyone is happy with the current turn of events – apart from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party that is. The Islamic extremist thing is usual is well over-played by scaremongerers.

  6. Kismet Hardy — on 16th January, 2007 at 8:16 pm  

    I’ve lived in bangladesh during the rule of ershad (nice one for arresting me and nearly getting me beaten shitless for having a mullet but letting me go because I had bribe money on me). I’ve seen what the Rapid Arms Batallion do to people that pose a threat to the way of the governed way of life. I’ve seen the floods wipe out people I know.

    Compared to marshall law, floods are a swim in the park…

  7. Jagdeep — on 16th January, 2007 at 9:18 pm  

    I want to say something intelligent and erudite about this, but don’t know enough. Except Sunny, that ‘could Bangladesh be the next Afghanistan’ is so exaggerated its the kind of hyperbole you’d expect from some ignorant American FOX news headline, rather than from an Asian with some knowledge of the dynamics and differences between Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

  8. Jagdeep — on 16th January, 2007 at 9:20 pm  

    (nice one for arresting me and nearly getting me beaten shitless for having a mullet but letting me go because I had bribe money on me)

    Yeah, but mullets have been a threat to Bangladesh for a long time, it’s not funny you know. They sided with Pakistan in the war of liberation.

  9. Kismet Hardy — on 16th January, 2007 at 9:26 pm  

    “They sided with Pakistan in the war of liberation.”

    Did you just mock the ignorant you monkey?

    Bangladesh FOUGHT Pakistan to get liberated you freak

  10. Kismet Hardy — on 16th January, 2007 at 9:28 pm  

    Although it has to be said, we won… thanks to India

    You still owe me a beer though

  11. Jagdeep — on 16th January, 2007 at 9:41 pm  

    Eh? I thought you owed me a beer.

  12. Jagdeep — on 16th January, 2007 at 9:43 pm  

    Bangladesh FOUGHT Pakistan to get liberated you freak

    Naaah man you misunderstand, I’m saying that mullets fought for Pakistan in the war of liberation and that’s why Ershad’s men beat you up. Mullets are dangerous.

  13. Bert Preast — on 16th January, 2007 at 9:45 pm  

    Mullets made English football a laughing stock.

    The silver lining is they STILL make German football a laughing stock. So it’s all good.

    You can get back to teching me Bangladeshi politics if you like.

  14. Kismet Hardy — on 16th January, 2007 at 10:03 pm  

    Oh. I stand accused. I’m bald now. Am I safe?

  15. raz — on 16th January, 2007 at 10:36 pm  

    Kissinger must be having a good chuckle at this.

    I wonder if this instability in Bangladesh may have regional repercussions:

    Heavy fighting breaks out between Indian and Bangladeshi soldiers

  16. Bert Preast — on 16th January, 2007 at 10:43 pm  

    Well, it’s an education all right.

  17. Sid Love — on 16th January, 2007 at 11:57 pm  

    And yet the most tragic thing about Bangladesh is that it had a non-partisan and independent judiciary. It also has a boisterous free and objective tv and press. Sound bureacratic institutions and millions of young bright talented people.

    But it’s chosen to give all of it away on a plate to anyone who doesn’t give a shit about BNP/Awami League affiliations. And the only people who don’t are, unfortunately, Islamists. Islmamists who are willing to play the democratic way but Islamists non-the-less.

  18. Martin Bright — on 18th January, 2007 at 1:49 pm  

    Check out the brilliant piece by novelist Tahmima Anam in this week’s New Statesman. Beautifully-crafted words on desh-prem. Sorry about the blatant advertising but it really is rather good.

  19. sonia — on 18th January, 2007 at 2:53 pm  

    Have just got back from Dhaka. Don’t know about the ‘army on the streets thing’ – there are more police on the streets of London. life is carrying on as normal which is certainly wasn’t doing when all the hartals were happening. ordinary people certainly are pleased with no more hartals as they can actually go about their daily business which is hardly surprising! the elections have been postponed which most people think is a good thing. noone imagined the elections were going to be ‘free and fair’. i don’t imagine anyone actually thinks having a ‘state of emergency’ is tantamount to ‘military rule’. analogous to having police on the streets and a police state. Now if no elections ever materialize that may change. Things are far too complicated for any facile explanation. Certainly this all demonstrates how fucked up things are when a ‘state of emergency’ means that most ordinary people ( POLITICAL PARTIES EXCLUDED) go oh good now i can go out, instead of having to hide at home. Politics is fucked up – that’s for sure – and yes it’s important to do something about the fact that a lot of people think the election wasn’t shaping up to be free or fair – but the kind of hartals we have are hardly very fair either. While i was in Kolkata there were all these ‘bandhs’ ( same thing as a hartal effectively) happening as well – and i watched a debate on tv about who thought what about the pros and cons of these types of strikes. one lady had a superb point which was – the bottom line – who is affected by these kinds of violent strikes? ordinary people. yes we have democratic responsibilities and we have to think hard about how to try and get there minus the violence. otherwise it’ll be back to the ironic state of affairs where people go about their normal business in a state of emergency and can’t do so when there isn’t a state of emergency officially.

    as for the power of the ‘islamists’ : it suprises me that people are talking about it now – what about in 2001 when they were actually elected by virtue of allying themselves with the BNP?

    view from the street..

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