Voters in Bangladesh go to the polls on December 29. The election is
intended to restore democracy to the South Asian nation of 150 million
people, who are predominately Muslim. The long-delayed election comes
after a nearly two-year period of emergency rule by an army-backed
The two top contenders to lead Bangladesh are familiar faces and bitter rivals.
Hasina, of the Awami League, and Khaleda Zia, of the Bangladesh
Nationalist Party, both served as prime minister. They rotated in and
out of power during a tumultuous 15-year period with the party in
opposition accused of violence and intimidation against the other.
years ago, during a period of bloodshed on the streets, political
paralysis and widespread disgust with endemic corruption the military
felt compelled to intervene.
The army installed an interim
government under emergency law. The caretakers conducted a widespread
sweep to try to rid Bangladesh of graft politics.
caught in the dragnet were the two former prime ministers, known as the
"Battling Begums." Their release from jail and freedom to campaign was a
non-negotiable condition of their respective parties to contest the
Without the two women the election would not have been deemed credible by very many voters here.
claims a late surge by the BNP is putting her on the path to victory.
But others contend the Awami League and Hasina are still ahead.
you people can snatch another victory on 29th December by voting for
us," she said. "This election is very important for you and for the
people of Bangladesh, because this election is a revolution against the
terrorists, the corrupt and the looters. I believe people will give
their verdicts based on that."
Hasina has released a manifesto outlining sweeping development for Bangladesh - one of the world's poorest countries.
contends her party, the BNP, is the better choice to pull Bangladesh
out of deep poverty and its heavy dependence on foreign aid.
sheathes [symbol of BNP] symbolize strength and development, so
whenever people voted for this symbol, there were much development in
the country," she said. "So I handover this symbol to our candidates."
On a more alarming note, Zia alleges she is a target for assassination before election day.
who has seen a half dozen attempts on her life over the years, is
accusing a trailing Zia of a dramatic ploy to scuttle the election at
the last minute.
U.S. Ambassador James Moriarty has appeared
recently twice alongside Sheik Hasina of the Awami League. But he tells
VOA News he is not playing favorites and desires to meet again with BNP
leader Zia before the election.
"We have no preferred
candidate," he said. "I've reached out to both of the former prime
ministers. I've assured them that the United States has important
interests in Bangladesh, wants to see a return to democracy and will
work well with whatever government comes to power."
ambassador is calling for the election winner to focus on three
priorities - restoring full democracy, development and denying
opportunities for terrorism to flourish.
government in Bangladesh has to address all three," he said. "If the
democracy does not function well, you will see ungoverned space, you
will see much slower economic development than you would otherwise. If
development doesn't occur you will have a lot more poor people, you
will have a lot more opportunities for bad guys to do bad things."
ambassador says he is convinced Bangladesh's military is sincere about
removing itself from politics and commends the army for keeping in step
with its own timetable for the transition back to an elected civilian