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Bangladesh slides into chaos again

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s party won 232 of 300 seats in Parliament but the turnout was only 39.8% as the BNP boycotted the election on the grounds that polls were not held by a neutral caretaker government.

comment Updated: Feb 08, 2015 22:36 IST
Hindustan Times

The extent and duration of mass unrest that Bangladesh can endure is astonishing. In 2013 it saw protests over punishing those guilty of perpetrating war crimes during the country’s liberation struggle in 1971. If the 2013 protests had an element of principle involved they have segued again into a raw struggle for power. The country’s politics is split largely between the two major parties, the (ruling) Awami League and the BNP led by two leaders who hail from feuding families, one secular minded and the other with an Islamist base.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s party won 232 of 300 seats in Parliament but the turnout was only 39.8% as the BNP boycotted the election on the grounds that polls were not held by a neutral caretaker government.

The country has been engulfed in violence over the last month since the BNP gave a call for a nationwide blockade of roads, railways and waterways to force Sheikh Hasina to step down and call for fresh polls. Over 60 people have been killed and several hundred vehicles have been firebombed or damaged. On Sunday, petrol bombs were hurled at the Dhaka-Kolkata Maitree Express train in Pabna.

The Hasina regime has arrested BNP leaders and more than 7,000 activists. Khaleda Zia has been put under house arrest and the government cut off her power and internet connection briefly. The regime warned protestors of invoking tough anti-terrorism laws, including the death penalty. The BNP and its allies are able to sustain protests thanks to the anger against the incarceration of opposition activists and crackdown on protests.

The recriminations continue and as is typical of competing political dynasties elsewhere, there is little effort to explore the middle ground. The US has found fault with both sides; it criticised the “unconscionable attacks” including bus burnings and train derailments but also called on the government “to provide the space for peaceful political activity” as all have the right to express their views peacefully. If only both sides would listen.

First Published: Feb 08, 2015 22:35 IST