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Bangladesh's Top Two Political Leaders Targeted by Interim Government

  • Anjana Pasricha

Another powerful former minister has been arrested in Bangladesh as the army-backed interim government intensifies a crackdown on corruption, and tries to bring the country's fractious politicians into line. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the latest arrest comes days after the government targeted the country's two leading politicians.

Security forces in Dhaka on Friday arrested Moudud Ahmed, the former law and parliamentary affairs minister. He has been detained for suspected tax evasion.

He is the third top political leader the interim administration has moved against this week, as it presses ahead with its agenda to cleanse the country's corrupt politics.

Former Prime Minister Khaldea Zia, head of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party or BNP, was put under virtual house arrest earlier this week. At the same time her main rival, Sheikh Hasina, who heads the Awami League party, was charged with extortion and the murder of four rival political workers.

The two women have an iron grip on the country's two main parties, and have alternated as prime ministers since 1991.

An independent political analyst in Dhaka, Ataus Samad, says this week's moves signal that the interim government wants the BNP and the Awami League to change their existing leadership before fresh elections are held sometime next year.

"Yes, the pressure is there, the government wants these two ladies to retire from politics, that is very clear…. Because the government is afraid that if the parties go the next elections with the same leadership, then the same bottleneck as was seen in January would repeat again," said Samad.

Elections were scheduled to be held in January, but were postponed after disagreements between the two parties on how the polls should be organized led to widespread violence.

The parties have consistently been divided on every issue - partly due to the intense personal animosity between their leaders. Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina have never been on speaking terms, and their bitter relations have triggered frequent violence between their supporters.

Mahfuz Anam, the editor of Dhaka's Daily Star, says the two women are widely blamed for failing to build a culture of healthy, democratic politics.

"These two ladies, instead of strengthening democratic institutions, they turned the governance process into a one-person show, and basically it was [a] very arbitrary pattern of governance, and definitely also over the years, the whole process of nepotism, corruption, politicization gradually increased," said Anam.

Political observers say that so far, the interim government has support from a public disenchanted with the political parties and their squabbling leaders. But they warn that support could shrink rapidly if the administration drags its feet in restoring democracy.

The government is trying to calm any such fears. In a televised address Thursday, the head of the administration, Fakhruddin Ahmed, promised to hold elections by the end of 2008, and said he would not stay in office longer than necessary.

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