Bangla parties on collision course

Bangladeshi government and the opposition seem inexorably moving towards a collision course as the next polls are drawing nearer. The 11-party opposition led by the Awami League headed by Sheikh Hasina held a massive rally in Dhaka on Nov. 22 and the tensions appear to be increasing since that event.

The rally was followed by a dawn-to-dusk strike on Nov. 24 called by the opposition demanding that the government quits and early elections are held. It is planning further agitation programmes to force the authorities to accept the demands that include reforming the present system of non-partisan caretaker government that organises elections. But the government of PM Begum Khaleda Zia maintains that the non-partisan caretaker government system that was introduced in 1996 during the earlier stint of Mrs Zia as the prime minister conceding to opposition demand needs no reform or change. So far two elections have been held under the non-partisan interim government that takes over from the elected government at the expiry of the five-year term and organises polls and quits within a period of three month by handing over the power to the victorious party or alliance. It is headed by the immediate past former chief justice of the Supreme Court, who appoints ten-member advisers known for their neutral stance for the purpose of conducting the polls. In 1996 when polls were held under such an authority, the Awami League swept to power dislodging Mrs Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which returned to power in 2001.

Next general elections for the 300-seat parliament are due within three months after the term of the present government expires in October next year. The Awami League says that it will not accept the person who is likely to head the interim government since he once had “political connection” with BNP even though later he became the chief justice. The opposition also demands several reforms in the present setup of the interim government to make it really “worthwhile.” The opposition seems to have received a boost by the Nov. 22 rally, but the government leaders sought to play down its success saying the crowd was not big in a city of more than eight million people.

The strike that followed was marked by stray incidents of violence in a country where such strikes are a regular phenomenon. As the elections are nearing, anti-government program-mes are in the offing. The government says polls will take place only as per the constitution. It seems that there is hardly any likelihood that polls will be held earlier than schedule. The BNP-led ruling four-party alliance has a two-thirds majority in the parliament. The opposition has been boycotting the parliament for a long time complaining that it cannot vent its views in the House as little time is given to the opposition members. The government is planning a rally in Dhaka in December to counter the opposition agitation. The recent SAARC summit provided a lull to political activities, but things are picking up drawing the government and the opposition on the path of confrontation.

Chowdhury, foreign editor at BSS, writes for THT from Dhaka