Oppn on backfoot in Bangladesh

General elections in Bangladesh will be held in December. But the opposition is already at a disadvantage, with the leader of the principal opposition party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) president Khaleda Zia in jail. Begum Khaleda was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in February this year. She was accused of misappropriation of Taka 3.15 crore ($3,75,000)  of a charitable trust named after her late husband, former president of Bangladesh, Zia-ur Rahman.
Her supporters had been agitating for her release in view of the coming elections. But they suffered a setback on Tuesday when a Bangladesh court enhanced her prison term from five to ten years. She has also been sentenced to a seven years’ imprisonment in three other cases. Although the two sentences will run concurrently, it is obvious that she will not be able either to stand for election herself or to campaign for her party.  The BNP-led 20-party opposition block has suffered another disadvantage. The organization which comes next to the BNP in organizational strength is the Jamaat-e-Islami. The Bangladesh Election Commission has cancelled its registration. This means it will not be able to contest the elections as a party, though individual members of it can contest as independents.
Islamic fundamentalist elements are quite strong in Bangladesh though they have been kept in check by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League. How the electorate of Bangladesh will react to the debarring of Begum Zia and the Jamaat from participating in the election remains to be seen. Stray attacks on the minority Hindus by the fundamentalists  continue to take place. Even so, the Hindus do not face any major threat as long as the Awami League is in power. If the fundamentalists get the upper hand, their first target will be the minorities – both Hindus and Buddhists. The latter live mainly in Chittagong area.
A study jointly undertaken by a group of scholars in Bangladesh noticed that there was a “contrasting scenario that shows high significance of Islamic principles and Islamic parties in the policy domain and very insignificant success of the Islamic political parties in the electoral domain.” Indeed, Islamic political parties have been kept at bay not only by Sheikh Hasina and party but also by a large body of secular-minded intelligentsia, academicians and sections in the media. The battle between the secularists and the fundamentalists has been going on for long. It is far from over. The battle will continue even after this election but the poll results will give a fair idea of the extent of influence each side holds on the common people.

Wednesday, 31 October, 2018