Hasina Launches Bid For Fifth Term

Comments Off on Hasina Launches Bid For Fifth Term 227

DR ANCHITA BORTHAKUR |

THE last date for the submission of nomination forms for the upcoming Bangladesh’s parliamentary election known as ‘Jatiyo Sangsad Nirbachan’ ended on 30 November confirming that Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the leading Opposition Party is unlikely to participate in the country’s 12th general election, scheduled to take place on 7 January next year.

■ Sheikh Hasina is the longest serving prime minister of Bangladesh | PID

The country is facing unprecedented levels of violence between the ruling Awami League (AL) Party supporters and their primary opposition the BNP (and its like–minded parties), where the latter demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and transfer of power to a non–partisan caretaker government, (a system Bangladesh abolished in 2011), to oversee the national elections. A massive BNP rally was held on 28 October which turned violent with the death of a policeman and a ward–level BNP leader, leading to the arrest of hundreds of activists and leaders of opposition. Violent confrontation between opposition activists and the ruling party members escalated at an extraordinary rate since then.

 

Sheikh Hasina, who is the longest serving leader of the country, is eyeing for a fifth term and is not interested to comply with their demand as the Supreme Court in 2011 already declared the system of interim administration unconstitutional and the then ruling AL amended the constitution to abolish this provision

 

The hardline Islamist organisation Jamaat–e–Islami, the largest and the most organised Islamist Party of Bangladesh and a former electoral ally of BNP, whose registration under Election Commission was cancelled in 2013 by a High Court order, thereby debarred them from participating in elections (citing the provision of secularism enshrined in the country’s constitution), also brought out processions in different parts of the country. Like BNP, their principal demand is that “PM Hasina should step down and make way for a neutral caretaker government to conduct the election in a free, fair and credible manner” However, much to their dismay, Sheikh Hasina, who is the longest serving leader of the country, is eyeing for a fifth term and is not interested to comply with their demand as the Supreme Court in 2011 already declared the system of interim administration unconstitutional and the then ruling AL amended the constitution to abolish this provision. However, she reaffirmed her commitment to holding a free, fair, inclusive and participatory election to support the democratic aspirations of the people of Bangladesh. The last two national elections held under the AL government in 2014 and 2018 were controversial and the government was accused of being involved in widespread vote rigging and massive irregularities including tampering with the country’s constitutional institutions. While opposition parties boycotted the 2014 election where 153 of the total 300 members of parliament were elected uncontested, in 2018, of the 300 seats in the national parliament, the AL alone won 258 seats and its allies won another 30 with BNP won only six, and one of its allies secured two seats.

■ Selfie with President Biden

But recent developments suggest defectors from the opposition forming alliance to participate in the forthcoming election which will provide the much needed relief to the Hasina government in order to gain international legitimacy, especially of the western world which is questioning the credibility of the upcoming election process. Several new parties such as Trinamool (grassroots) BNP, Bangladesh Nationalist Movement, the Bangladesh Supreme Party, Swatantra Ganatantra Mancha have been formed, some of whom have dissenters from BNP led opposition. The Bangladesh Kalyan Party, which has been part of the BNP–led 12–party alliance formed last year also decided to participate in the electoral process by forging a new political alliance named Jukta front. Therefore, it seems there is a sense of positive optimism among a section of the political elites regarding the forthcoming election. However, the critics argue that it is a pressure tactic by the ruling government to compel the opposition to agree to their demands. Moreover, Hasina is accused of fielding “dummy candidates”—a term used for candidates belonging to the ruling party but who are keen to contest the election as “independents” with the approval of the party.

 

2014 election where 153 of the total 300 members of parliament were elected uncontested, in 2018, of the 300 seats in the national parliament, the AL alone won 258 seats and its allies won another 30 with BNP won only six, and one of its allies secured two seats

 

POLITICAL VIOLENCE

Political violence, often manifested through street power, is not new to Bangladesh. Throughout Bangladesh’s history, the country witnessed the use of instruments such as Bandhs and Hartals by the political parties to achieve their demands and sometimes also to bring back democracy to their country, which was seen in 1991. The political landscape of Bangladesh remained polarised/divisive as a result of competing and divergent views of the elites. It can be witnessed that contestation between the two versions of nationalism i.e. Bengali (associated with language and culture) vs Bangladeshi nationalism (with Islam as its core) has dominated Bangladesh’s polity since independence, with AL endorsing the former and its opposition BNP often termed as the flagbearer of the latter. But despite allegations, national elections are mostly held periodically in Bangladesh, except for an interregnum during 2007–2008, which needs to be appreciated. Moreover, over the past few years, Bangladesh achieved an unprecedented economic growth and development, likely to emerge as an USD 1Tn economy in the coming decades. According to the latest Asian Development Bank (ADB) report, despite various internal (economic mismanagement, unethical business practices and lack of institutions to supervise these activities) and external setbacks (of Covid–19 pandemic and Russia Ukraine war), Bangladesh’s gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to grow by 6.5% in FY2024, compared to the 6.0% growth in the previous fiscal year. In addition, Bangladesh is scheduled to graduate from the category of least developed country (LDC) to the developing country grouping by November 2026, which is a remarkable success story of the present government. However, the current political turmoil/deadlock can have serious consequences on the country’s economic performance and increase resentment against the ruling government in the long run.

■ The eternal friend

Global Players

The upcoming election is crucial not only for Bangladesh’s domestic stability but also for its neighbours and the global players. Bangladesh’s growing geostrategic significance in the Indo–Pacific region renewed major powers interests in Bangladesh’s domestic politics in the recent years. In a press briefing on 31 October, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (UNHRC) expressed, “We are deeply concerned by a series of violent incidents during ongoing protests in Bangladesh. As the country heads towards elections, we call on all political actors to make clear that such violence is unacceptable and to avoid any statements or actions that could constitute incitement to violence.” In a statement in November, European Parliament also made it clear that they “will not observe this electoral process and consequently will neither comment on the process nor on the results that will be announced after wards. Moreover, there will be no European Union (EU) Election Observation Mission.” However, later EU changed its stance and decided to send four–member technical team to monitor the election. Japan, which has historically been Bangladesh’s largest source of overseas development assistance, also proposed to send 16–member election observer team to Dhaka.

 

PM Hasina has so far successfully maintained a balanced relations with both India and China—the two competing powers in its geopolitical vicinity—while accommodating India’s geo–political concerns vis-à-vis the region. Moreover, since 2014, both PM Modi and Hasina resolved some of the longstanding bi–lateral issues including land boundary agreement, maritime boundary dispute, concerns regarding trade and transit rights etc. Two railway links, India– Bangladesh friendship pipeline and a power plant were also inaugurated by both the leaders to enhance connectivity between the two states

 

USA, the country which is the largest foreign direct investor and the biggest export destination for Bangladesh’s Ready Made Garments (RMG) products from where the latter earned $8.51 billion in FY23 (18.12% of total RMG exports), also expressed their concern about democratic backsliding in Bangladesh. On 22 September, 2023 US Department of State in a press release stated to “impose visa restrictions on Bangladeshi individuals responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh.” However, there is a widespread perception that this move was initiated primarily to target the ruling party members and the law–enforcement officials.

■ China building submarine base for Bangladesh | X

US also refrained from inviting Bangladesh to Biden administration’s high profile Summit for Democracy events in 2021 and 2023 consecutively; while it invited Bangladesh’s South Asian Neighbours Pakistan — which ranks lower than Bangladesh on Freedom House’s Freedom in the World Index and the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index. In December 2021, Washington imposed sanction against the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), Bangladesh’s elite paramilitary force (often accused of helping Sheikh Hasina government to win past elections), and seven of its current and former officials, charging them of engaged in gross human rights violations in the country. In return, Sheikh Hasina accused the US of seeking a regime change in Bangladesh; while stating that Muslim countries are more susceptible to such changes.

On the other hand, Russia, which is helping Bangladesh to build its only nuclear power plant, is accusing USA of interfering in Bangladesh’s internal affairs “ostensibly under the banner of ensuring ‘transparency and inclusiveness.’” In November, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, in a briefing in Moscow, said that “Russia acknowledge the ability of the Bangladeshi authorities to hold the parliamentary elections scheduled for January 7, 2024, in full compliance with national legislation, independently, without the help of overseas well–wishers.”

 

India and Bangladesh enjoy a model relationship in the subcontinent in terms of pursuing security, regional connectivity, trade, shared prosperity and mutual benefits. AL government under Sheikh Hasina who has been in power since 2009 remains sensitive to India’s security concerns and is seen as one of the latter’s closest allies in the Neighbourhood

 

China, Bangladesh’s largest trading partner and the chief supplier of light weapons to the country since the 1970s, also didn’t shy away from clarifying its position on Bangladesh’s forthcoming election. Last month while attending an event in Dhaka, Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Yao Wen said, “Elections in all countries are internal and our policy is very clear. We hope the elections (in Bangladesh) will be conducted as per the constitution, and after the elections, there will be stability, life will return to normal and our cooperation will continue.” Moreover, despite severe allegations, China was one of the first countries to congratulate the AL government after the one–sided 2014 and 2018 parliamentary elections.

■ US Imposes sanctions on top officials of Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion

Implications for India

Bangladesh’s domestic politics have had an inevitable impact on India, a neighbours with whom Bangladesh shares its longest international border of more than four thousand kilometers. Therefore, New Delhi is closely observing the political developments inside Bangladesh—the former’s most reliable strategic partner in South Asia at present. While describing Bangladesh “as a close friend and partner” of India, Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra in a press meeting after the India–US 2+2 dialogue in November said, “When it comes to developments in Bangladesh, elections in Bangladesh, it is their domestic matter. It is for the people of Bangladesh to decide their future… [But] India respects the democratic process in Bangladesh.”

 

Bangladesh’s growing geostrategic significance in the Indo–Pacific region renewed major powers interests in Bangladesh’s domestic politics in the recent years. In a press briefing on 31 October, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (UNHRC) expressed, “We are deeply concerned by a series of violent incidents during ongoing protests in Bangladesh

 

Historically, India was the first country to recognise Bangladesh as a separate and independent state in 1971. India and Bangladesh enjoy a model relationship in the subcontinent in terms of pursuing security, regional connectivity, trade, shared prosperity and mutual benefits. AL government under Sheikh Hasina who has been in power since 2009 remains sensitive to India’s security concerns and is seen as one of the latter’s closest allies in the Neighbourhood. After coming to power, Hasina initiated brutal crackdown on anti–Indian militant outfits from India’s restive north east, who were taking shelter in Bangladesh, and handed over key leaders of these banned organisations to India. In addition, PM Hasina has so far successfully maintained a balanced relation with both India and China—the two competing powers in its geopolitical vicinity—while accommodating India’s geo–political concerns vis-à-vis the region. Moreover, since 2014, both PM Modi and Hasina resolved some of the longstanding bi–lateral issues including land boundary agreement, maritime boundary dispute, concerns regarding trade and transit rights etc. Two railway links, India– Bangladesh friendship pipeline and a power plant were also inaugurated by both the leaders to enhance connectivity between the two states. In addition, Bangladesh is a key partner of India’s Neighbourhood First policy. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also invited Sheikh Hasina to attend the G20 Summit which India concluded successfully this year. Unlike AL, India’s relations with other regimes of Bangladesh have been hardly smooth as few regimes in the country are accused of allowing anti–Indian forces to use Bangladesh’s territory to undertake operations against India. On the contrary, China maintains stable relations with all the regimes—irrespective of whosoever comes to power in Dhaka. Therefore, Bangladesh remains crucial from India’s national security perspective and hence India is watching carefully the political developments engulfing the country in the wake of the general election.

■ A Rohingya refugee inside Kutupalong camp

The whole world’s attention is on Bangladesh now. It seems neither the ruling party nor the opposition is willing to compromise to break the political stalemate and thus Bangladesh is heading towards an election process without the participation of its biggest opposition group. The country is facing a challenging path ahead and therefore, to resolve the current political crisis, political accommodation is the need of the hour for Dhaka. Overall, the upcoming election will be a defining moment not only for Bangladesh’s domestic landscape, but also for regional peace and security. Neighbouring country like India is hoping for a stable and peaceful Bangladesh, where the latter can become a bridge between South and South East Asia. An unstable Bangladesh will be a nightmare for India as the spillover effect will be adversely felt on its bordering states in general and India’s northeastern region in particular. Therefore, a free, democratic and prosperous Bangladesh is the only outcome India wants from the forthcoming parliamentary election as the former draws closer to the polling date in a challenging environment. ■

■ LOOKEAST is not responsible for the opinions, facts or any media content presented by contributors.

©VIF

Similar articles