News / Asia

    Bangladesh Ruling Party Poised to Cruise as Opposition Boycotts Poll

    People walk near posters with portraits of contesting candidates urging voters to cast their ballot for their respective parties hung overhead on a street in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Jan. 3, 2014.
    People walk near posters with portraits of contesting candidates urging voters to cast their ballot for their respective parties hung overhead on a street in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Jan. 3, 2014.
    Reuters
    With a brass band, horse-drawn carriages and political posters flapping overhead, the rally in an old section of the Bangladesh capital had all the trappings of a spirited election.

    But the two candidates vying to represent the Lalbagh constituency, among the minority of seats to be contested by more than one candidate in nationwide polls set for Sunday, are both in the ruling Awami League, which is poised to steamroll to victory as the main opposition party sits out the vote.

    The Bangladesh National Party [BNP] is boycotting in protest at Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's move to scrap the tradition of letting a caretaker government oversee elections. The impasse undermines the legitimacy of the poll and is fueling worries of
    economic gridlock and further violence in the impoverished South Asian country of 160 million.

    "The acrimony between two of our main leaders has brought this country to where it is now and not just crippled our economy and growth, but also our democratic system," said Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary of Citizens for Good Governance, a non-governmental organization.

    Either Hasina or BNP chief Begum Khaleda Zia has been prime minister for all but two of the past 22 years and there is deep enmity between them.

    While the outcome of Sunday's poll seems certain, what happens afterwards is not. That could imperil Bangladesh's $22 billion garment industry, which accounts for 80 percent of exports and has been hampered by a series of nationwide strikes, including an ongoing transportation blockade called by the BNP.

    Pre-election violence that killed more than 100 people, mostly in rural areas, had eased in recent days, although two people were burnt to death early on Friday when opposition activists hurled petrol bombs at a truck in northern Dinajpur, according to police. Five polling centers were set on fire in southeastern Feni, Khaleda's hometown.

    Meanwhile, verdicts in the International Crimes Tribunal investigating atrocities committed during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan have elicited a violent reaction from activists affiliated with the Jamaat-e-Islami party, an Islamist ally of the BNP.

    Last month, the first execution resulting from the tribunal was followed by deadly violence against Awami League members.

    Impasse

    Hasina has spoken of holding talks following Sunday's polls with the opposition on the conduct of future elections. If successful, these could eventually result in another election. The BNP demands that the current electoral process be halted.

    Many opposition leaders are in jail or in hiding. Khaleda is under what appears to be house arrest.

    "Even if the BNP wanted to sit down to a dialogue, the atmosphere does not exist," Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury, a BNP vice chairman who was detained for several hours following a recent visit to Khaleda's home, told Reuters on Friday.

    The Awami League argues that the interim government system has failed in the past.

    "The election will be held under a strong and independent Election Commission, not under any unelected people," Hasina said in a televised speech on Thursday night.

    A poll published in Friday's Dhaka Tribune found support to be evenly split between the two parties, with the BNP backed by 37 percent of respondents and the Awami League 36 percent.

    The European Union, a duty free market for nearly 60 percent of Bangladesh's garment exports, has refused to send election observers, as have the United States and the Commonwealth, a grouping of 53 mainly former British colonies.

    "We're disappointed that the major political parties have not yet reached a consensus on a way to hold free, fair, and credible elections," Marie Harf, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman told a briefing on Thursday in Washington.

    While the military could step in to take power in the event of a breakdown of law and order - which it did in 2007 - it is widely seen as reluctant to do so.

    "Sheikh Hasina's main challenge is to convince the world these elections are credible and because that is not possible she will need a well-planned exit strategy to eventually conduct fair elections," said Iftekhar Zaman, executive director of global anti-corruption body Transparency International in Bangladesh.

    You May Like

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora