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Bangladesh's Interim Government Launches Dialogue With Political Parties on Transition to Democracy

Anjana Pasricha

In Bangladesh, talks between the military-backed interim government and opposition parties on a road map to restore democracy could determine the country's future political course. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the government says it plans to hold elections by the end of the year in Bangladesh, which has been under emergency rule since last year.

Bangladesh's caretaker leader, Fakhruddin Ahmed, struck an optimistic note as he began talks Thursday with two small political parties in Dhaka. He said the talks, which will continue over the coming weeks, will yield "good results" for everyone.

Nineteen political parties - both large and small - have been invited to discuss a transition to democracy, with elections expected in December.

Ataur Rahman, a professor of political science at Dhaka University, says the purpose for the talks is to assess whether there are any signs of change in the country's political culture.

"I think the caretaker government is trying to… wanted to know… whether the politicians have changed at all, and also to create a kind of national consensus on some issues. But the political parties are not willing to reform themselves," said Rahman. "The political parties are very skeptical of reforms because they are always complaining that reforms should not be imposed from the government."

The future course of the talks remains uncertain. The two main parties, the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, are demanding that their jailed leaders should be freed before they join any political discussions. Both parties ran the country alternately during the last 15 years. They also want the government to lift the state of emergency and restrictions on political activity.

However, Professor Rahman at Dhaka University say the political parties are under pressure to join the dialogue.

"There is no alternative to dialogue and negotiations or compromise," said Rahman. "If the political parties do not go for dialogue, the alternative is movement, and then the democratic process will be thwarted if the political parties take the hard option of going for movement. "

Bangladesh's military-backed government took power last January following widespread violence sparked by a bitter rivalry between the country's two main political parties. A standoff between the powerful heads of these parties is widely blamed for the country's political crisis.

The government has been urging political parties to bring in new leadership and change the way they are run.

Government leaders have described the dialogue as crucial for the country's political future. Analysts agree, saying the talks will determine whether elections are held in December as promised.

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