Bangladesh’s caretaker government finally began talking to political parties this week to start the political process towards holding general elections before December 2008.
Chief advisor to the government Syed Fakhruddin Ahmed said the elections would be held within the next six months.
Bangladesh has been under Emergency rule since large-scale disturbances led to the cancellation of general elections in January 2007 and an army-backed caretaker government was installed.
Political observers maintain that though the caretaker government was initially welcomed for its moves to reform the system and check corruption, it is fast losing people’s support now.
If need be, sources claimed, the country can go to polls even without the two leading ladies of Bangladeshi democracy, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, in jail now on corruption charges, contesting. If the Truth Commission probes against them drag on, the poll can be held without them taking part.
On Monday, the advisers of the government met Awami League leaders. On Tuesday it invited the BNP (Saifur Rahman faction) for talks. The BNP, not surprisingly, demanded immediate release of Khaleda Zia, lifting of the Emergency and fixing a date for elections.
The Awami League too has put forth a five-point charter of demands to the government. It too has demanded immediate release of Sheikh Hasina, lifting of Emergency, announcement of the poll date and consultations with all political parties to bring back democracy.
“The caretaker government cannot afford half-hearted attempts. It has to restore democracy as people want it,” Syed Ashraful Islam, the League’s acting general secretary, said.
After Hasina’s arrest, the Awami League was left in the hands of its acting president Zillur Rahman. Now one section (the majority), led by Tofail Ahmed and Amir Hussain Ahmed, want Rahman to continue leading the party into the polls, while Sheikh Hasina copes with her deteriorating health. But another section, led by Motia Chowdhury, wants Hasina at the helm.
In the BNP, the pro-reform group led by Saifur Rahman also wants Khaleda Zia to take a break. The caretaker government wants this too. But the BNP faction led by Khandekar Delwar Hossain wants Khaleda to lead.
Taking advantage of such factionalism the caretaker government has tried to prop up some new political parties, but without much success. “It is only after failing in that mission is the government talking to BNP and Awami League to usher in democracy,” said a senior bureaucrat.
Another idea is that the government may cede control to a national government run by clean politicians of all political parties. This government would restore normalcy and help establish permanent democracy.