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Bangladesh Polls: Conundrum of compromise or credibility

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Bangladesh Polls: Conundrum of compromise or credibility
Bangladesh Polls: Conundrum of compromise or credibility

By Ashok Dixit

New Delhi – Bangladesh goes to polls on January 5 under a multi-party interim government formed by the ruling Awami League, but several questions are up in the air as a result.

Among them is whether these elections will be conducted in a free and fair manner, or will electoral rules be bent to suit the party that is in power at present – the Awami League and its Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina.

Recent developments appear to have further escalated the tension. Bangladesh’s opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP),  has accused the authorities of placing their leader, Khaleda Zia, under virtual house arrest  since Thursday as tens of thousands of troops were deployed across the country ahead of elections next month. It is speculated to be an attempt to foil the December 29 march for democracy called for by BNP.

There is also a view that the inflexibility of the present ruling regime has convinced the opposition BNP to boycott next month’s polls. Critics say the January 5 election will be a farce if elections are not held under a non-political poll time government.

There is no doubt that Bangladesh is in the grip of a major political standoff between the Awami League and the BNP, and this development has drawn global attention of a worrying kind. The situation may result  in an insurgent-like situation in Bangladesh, even as analysts and the international community continue to rate the chances of the elections not being credible rather high. The government could even fall prematurely.

Countries in the neighbourhood and beyond are unanimous in their response – that there should be credible and fair elections, or at least it should appear to be so.

Rights watchdogs like Human Rights Watch (HRW) have said that the vicious cycle of violence arising out of the political stalemate is something that needs to be stopped immediately.

It is historically well known that India has had a more comfortable political and diplomatic relationship with the Awami League and Sheikh Hasina, but to say that there is a favourable bias on the part of New Delhi towards the latter would be wrong. It is also being suggested that India should show more faith in the BNP.

Like any other country, India has its foreign policy objectives vis-a-vis Bangladesh, and it is expected that it will stick to the basic tenets of democracy, whichever party in Bangladesh comes to power after the polls. The credibility of polls is of course important to India.

This came out clearly in a telecon with senior BJP leader and Vice President Balbir Punj recently.  He said: “The results of the elections will have far reaching consequences for Indo-Bangladesh relations and for the safety of Hindus in Bangladesh whose safety is our prime concern.”
The safety of minority group is concern for India due to local insurgency which is emerging in the country with local Bangladeshis fighting among each other.

Tarun Vijay, BJP MP and member of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, said, “unless the situation is not effectively and credibly controlled, it will have a direct impact on our borders and the internal security too will be affected due to the resultant influx”.

History also suggests that anti-incumbency could kick in, and deny the Awami League a chance to win a landmark second consecutive term. There is an atmosphere of desperation in Bangladesh, as the country’s main parties are announcing sops to garner as many votes for themselves as they can with elections just a few days away.

Leaders of both parties also seem desperate to place their respective heirs in advantageous positions to take over the reins so to speak. Will they succeed or not is a moot question.

United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, is pushing hard to resolve the ongoing political crisis in Bangladesh.

“The main political forces in Bangladesh have been unable to create the necessary conditions for transparent, inclusive and credible elections, despite many efforts, most recently under UN auspices,” a spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy said in a statement.

The United States has also noted that the major political parties have not yet reached consensus on a way to conduct the election, since more than half of the parliamentary seats are uncontested for the January 5 polls. In the prevailing scenario, the United States have decided not to deploy observers for these elections.

It has already been conveyed by many that if the election is not held in a free and fair manner, and if it is not inclusive, it will be meaningless.

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