News

Bangladesh Faces Political Gridlock

Bangladesh, born violently in 1971, has never had it easy. Since independence, the former east of Pakistan has had more than 20 attempted coups and extended periods of martial law.  A frequent victim of devastating cyclones and other natural disasters, the predominately Muslim South Asian nation has struggled to feed its people and rise out of poverty.  For the past year-and-half, Bangladesh has been run by a caretaker government backed by the military.  VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Dhaka and reports efforts to get Bangladesh back on a democracy track are moving slowly.

On the congested streets of the capital of the country with the world's highest population density, horns blare in frustration with Dhaka's notorious traffic jams.

Bangladesh is also suffering from political gridlock.

The caretaker government, backed by the army, has been in power far longer than it or anyone else predicted.  Elections were supposed to have been held in January, 2007, shortly after the caretaker government took over. The polling was postponed following weeks of political violence in which 30 people died and hundreds of others were injured.

Nearly a year-and-a-half later, the interim leaders say there is sufficient calm to set Bangladesh back on a democratic path, with the first step being a dialog between the government and the political parties.

The country's de facto external affairs minister, who is called the foreign adviser, Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, tells VOA News the government is already in discussion with some of the parties.

"This dialog is currently taking place," Chowdhury said.  "To date, we have reasons to see the glass as half full, rather than half empty.  It is progressing well.  We hope that it is the pressure of public opinion that will also create some kind of a consensus between the participating parties."

The parties say it is actually pressure applied by the military, not public opinion, which they are feeling.  And, so far, the two largest parties, which together garner support of an estimated 85 percent of the electorate, are not yielding to that pressure.

They insist that their jailed top leaders - both former prime ministers - be freed, because they are the only people who can lead any talks with the government.

In custody and facing corruption charges are the Awami League's Sheikh Hasina and the Bangladesh National Party's Khaldeda Zia.  The two political matriarchs are bitter rivals and violent clashes between their supporters in late 2006 led to the intervention of the army, as Bangladesh descended into chaos.

Many  Bangladeshis welcomed that move by their respected military.  But BNP Secretary General Khondkar Delwar Hossain tells VOA News that, amid the political gridlock and spiraling food prices, the caretakers have worn out their welcome.

"The people are 100 percent against this regime I tell you," Hossain said.  "And, people are suffering so much. They cannot publish the real news.  They have been gagged.  The judges cannot perform their duties according to the constitution, according to the law.  Everybody is being interfered [with]."

Amnesty International accuses the government of arresting people for political motives and using special courts that weaken the chances for fair trials by restricting access to defense lawyers and denying bail to those charged under the emergency regulations.

The military-backed government has removed most of the top layer of the traditional political establishment, with the arrests of 170 politicians and business people.

Many politicians and analysts here expect the two rival former prime ministers, known as the Battling Begums, to be convicted on graft and abuse of power charges.

The two top parties - and others which are sympathetic - could end up boycotting the planned December election, meaning an exiting caretaker government would have no credible victors with which to pass the torch.

The president of the JSD - the acronym for the National Socialist Party - Hasanul Haq Inu, says it will be a farcical election if the Awami League and BNP do not participate, because Bangladesh has waited 30 years for unbiased polling pitting the two dominant parties against each other.

"It will be a very dangerous political situation and the present scenario will be totally changed," Inu said.  "Minus the two political parties, the caretaker government should not hold a parliamentary election."

Acting Foreign Minister Chowdhury remains optimistic.

"Following the elections there will be a government that will be able to sustain the positive reforms that have been undertaken by this government and would be  able to bring better changes in the political structures and political style that will truly reflect the kind of pluralism that pervades this society," Chowdhury said.

For that to happen, the longtime rivals, the Awami League and the BNP would have to work together or at least be willing to peacefully play the opposition role when out of power.  There is no historical precedent in Bangladesh for that.

Awami League senior figure Tofail Ahmed, a former commerce minister, tells VOA News a frustrated public is now demanding the two major parties cooperate, for the sake of political and economic stability.

"I am sure, at the present moment, most of the political parties have decided, in their party forum, that all of us should work together and we should come to a national consensus.  And, that is not by the government but within the political parties," Ahmed said.

The fragile political atmosphere also faces growing economic storm clouds.

The World Bank says Bangladesh is among the countries at risk for severe
political unrest, if food prices keep rising.

The country's oil importer and distribution monopoly is proposing price hikes of up to 80 percent, another potential catalyst for a resurgence of public protest.

There is also a festering feud between war veterans and more than 1,000 alleged war criminals, accused of collaborating with the Pakistanis during the 1971 independence struggle.  The veterans, regarded as heroes here, say purging the alleged traitors from politics is even more crucial than disqualifying corrupt candidates.  That emotional campaign is another flash point that could ignite on the streets of Bangladesh. 

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs