By Haroon Habib
Bangladesh has welcomed 2018 amid fears of political unrest ahead of a crucial general election. Anxiety over a possible return to political instability is growing as the country prepares to elect its 11th Parliament at the end of the year.
Most political observers express the view that the 2018 elections are going to be fiercely contested as opponents of the ruling Awami League-led alliance are likely to use all their strengths to see to that the “secular pro-liberation” parties don’t return to power. The earlier election, in 2014, was held amid a violent boycott by Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its Islamist allies led by the Jamaat-e-Islami.
One of the early indications of political instability is that the BNP-led alliance of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has started pressing the same demand as earlier. Key BNP leaders say they would not take part in an election held under Sheikh Hasina as Prime Minister and call for a caretaker government to oversee the polls. The ruling Awami League, however, strongly maintains that it will remain in power in line with the country’s Constitution.
Violence in 2014
Four years ago, Bangladesh experienced a massive violence ahead of the elections. The BNP’s violent boycott then, analysts say, has proved to be a political mistake which has cost them dear. The opposition wants to avoid repeating the mistake.
It is also banking on what it perceives as “a broader public antipathy” towards the government’s policies. However, it may suffer a setback if Khaleda Zia, who is facing graft charges, is convicted by the judiciary.
The BNP and its Islamist allies believe that they will get the people’s mandate if the election is free and fair. Besides, they argue, the Awami League will face strong anti incumbency. Key Awami League leaders said they are on guard against complacency as they traverse the political landscape. For the party to come to power for a third-consecutive term, they think, it needs to concentrate on an effective nationwide electoral campaign, resolve the intra-party conflicts, and choose the right candidates.
The ruling party may face another challenge if H.M. Ershad’s Jatiya Party seeks to leave its alliance and battle it out on its own.
The Hindu, January 4, 2018