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Bangladesh's Military-Backed Administration Completes Six Months in Power


Bangladesh's army-backed interim administration has completed six months in power. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the government's widely hailed crackdown on corruption has earned it public support, but there are concerns about the postponement of elections until the end of 2008.

When high-profile politicians were jailed in Dhaka for alleged corruption after an interim government took power in January, there was widespread incredulity in a country where political leaders were never seen as accountable.

Six months on, many people acknowledge that the army-backed administration is determined to root out corruption. More than 170 political leaders are behind bars.

They include cabinet ministers, city mayors and the son of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. The government has promised to widen the net even as special courts begin to hear cases.

The crackdown has earned accolades among ordinary people who are disillusioned with politicians. Many of them have been accused of amassing personal wealth and ignoring the country's development needs.

However the indefinite suspension of democracy is causing mounting concern.

Independent political analyst Ataus Samad says there is skepticism about the administration's desire to hand power to an elected government by end of next year, as promised.

"We hear not only politicians, but also the common people asking questions whether elections will be held within the stated time frame, which is December 2008," said Samad. "Some people believe it, some people don't believe it."

Some analysts think the emergency administration will only hold elections when it has achieved its other major goal, reforming the country's two main political parties.

They are headed by powerful women, former Prime ministers Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina. The government wants both to quit.

But analyst Samad says it has not easy to loosen their iron grip on their parties, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, or BNP, and the Awami League.

"Up to now there are not very many signs that they have been able to do it," he added. "Only some people, you can count them on your fingers, they are saying they want these reforms, the main objective of which is to keep these two ladies and their supporters out of elections."

In May, the government abandoned plans to exile Mrs. Zia and Mrs. Hasina after encountering opposition. Both leaders accuse the administration of treating them unfairly, and want it to lift a ban on political activity.

Despite the delay in elections, many people remain optimistic that the interim government can lead the country out of the crisis it faced in January. Then, differences between the two main political parties on how to hold elections triggered bloody street battles.

Former Major General Syed Mohammad Ibrahim, a defense analyst, is among those who remain upbeat.

"The sincerity of the caretaker government, the organizational ability of the military behind the government and coupled with it the desire of the people, these three factors will ultimately culminate in holding the elections in time," said Ibrahim.

In recent days, government officials have said they will continue their fight against corruption, and they will stick to plans for elections next year. And they have made clear they see no future rule in politics for Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina.

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