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Stalemate continues in Bangladesh over caretaker Govt

A caretaker Govt must take office after PM Zia quits on Saturday as per a constitutional requirement to conduct free and fair polls.

india Updated: Oct 24, 2006 13:55 IST

An abrupt end to the political dialogue on the eve of the Eid-ul-Fitr raised fears of a continued political stalemate in Bangladesh over the appointment of the chief of the caretaker government to conduct the parliamentary elections in January 2007.

A caretaker government must take office after Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's government quits Saturday as per a constitutional requirement to govern and conduct free and fair polls.

However, there is complete disagreement on who should head the caretaker government, causing anxieties among the politicians, the civil society and chambers of commerce and industry.

A delay or a deadlock could mean both sides taking to the streets and eruption of violence.

Leaders of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of Prime Minister Zia and the 14-party opposition alliance were "trying to outsmart each other," New Age newspaper said on Tuesday.

The 25-minute meeting between BNP secretary general Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan and Awami League (AL) secretary Abdul Jall was "shortest so far", the newspaper noted.

But media reports indicate that the dialogue could resume immediately after the Eid celebrations are over.

Political analysts note that a stalemate is not new in Bangladesh's politics and a compromise could be reached on time.

The bone of contention is the appointment of KM Hasan, a retired Supreme Court judge, whom Zia wants to nominate as the head of the caretaker government.

But the Opposition charges that Hasan had been a BNP official in the past and could not be expected to be neutral.

The Opposition has its own preference and efforts are on to pressure Hasan to 'decline' the appointment.

Among those who have made such an appeal is the pro-Awami League Supreme Court Bar Association.

The Daily Star newspaper described the political situation as "heading for a cul-de-sac", and speculated that the AL could turn to President Iajuddin Ahmed to ensure that someone other than Hasan is appointed caretaker.

Renowned jurist and former law minister Kamal Hossain is emerging as the principal strategist for the opposition, the newspaper said.

Political observers say if the president is saddled with the responsibility of picking a caretaker government chief, it could lay out a win-win situation for both BNP and AL.

But for that to happen Hasan will have to decline to assume the post and then the president can pick somebody else.

In such a case, BNP can claim that it did not cave in to the Opposition's demand while AL can bask in the glory of 'achieving' its goal.

Meanwhile, both sides have said that they would seek "to take control" of the streets for a possible show of strength.

"We will fight with bamboo sticks and oars," the latter being symbolic of the riverine Bangladesh, an AL official was quoted as saying.

Zia too is reported to have instructed her party cadres that no political vacuum should be permitted so as not to allow any room for the Opposition AL.

First Published: Oct 24, 2006 13:55 IST