News / Asia

Clash of Ideologies Plunges Bangladesh into Cycle of Violence

FILE - A bus stands in flames after it was set afire by opposition supporters trying to defy a ban on protests, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Oct. 25, 2013.
FILE - A bus stands in flames after it was set afire by opposition supporters trying to defy a ban on protests, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Oct. 25, 2013.
Reuters
A clash of ideologies has plunged Bangladesh into a cycle of violence as the two main political parties – the ruling Awami League, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), headed by Begum Khaleda Zia, exploit the tension between secularists and Islamists ahead of elections.
 
Recently, Bangladesh's main opposition party refused a request from the prime minister to form an all-party government to oversee upcoming elections, setting the stage for a showdown this week that could delay or even derail the polls altogether.
 
The deadlock in many ways recalls the aborted polls of 2007, when a League boycott and clashes between rival party supporters led a military-backed government to take over for two years.
 
Even if the polls go ahead, the opposition might reject the results, which could spark more strikes and force a second election within months, as happened in 1996.
 
Rana Dasgupta, a lawyer and secretary-general of an inter-faith forum, 'The Bangladesh United Council for Hindus, Buddhists and Christians,' spoke to reporters about the ideological differences between the two feuding parties.
 
While talking to a reporter in Dhaka, Dasgupta ruled out the possibility of personal enmity between the leaders of the main political parties.
 
“It is true that Bangladesh politics is the politics of enmity between the two begums. What I feel is that the enmity is not personal, rather it is ideological,” said Dasgupta.
 
Bangladesh has been hit in recent months by a wave of violent protests over war crimes convictions, presenting the government with a security and credibility challenge ahead of polls early next year.
 
The tribunal has handed down eight convictions so far; six defendants have been sentenced to death.
 
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina set up the tribunal in 2010 to investigate abuses that took place during the country’s 1971 war of independence, during which India helped Bangladesh, then known as East Pakistan, break away from Pakistan. It delivered its first verdict in January.
 
The prime minister's opponents say she is using the tribunal as a political weapon against the two biggest opposition parties: the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jemaat-e-Islami.
 
Commenting on the demand for a caretaker government, Dasgupta said that it was unconstitutional in the present context.
 
“For ensuring an independent election commission, the very politics of and the slogan of a caretaker government or any such government without Hasina, basically what I feel, is unconstitutional,” he added.
 
Bloodletting has erupted across the country since the tribunal's first verdict; more than 100 people have been killed in the clashes this year. Most of them were Islamist party activists and members of the security forces.
 
Bangladesh became part of Pakistan at the end of British rule in 1947, but broke away in 1971 after a war between Bangladeshi nationalists, who were backed by India, and Pakistani forces. The war cost 3 million lives.
 
Wrangling over a war that ended 42 years ago might puzzle outsiders, but it underlines the unresolved rift within this South Asian country of 160 million between secular nationalism and a belief that Islam is the defining core of the state.
 
For now, the feud between secularists and Islamists has diverted attention from a stand-off between Prime Minister Hasina and BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia over whether to install a caretaker authority to ensure a free and fair election.
 
Both heirs to political dynasties, Hasina and Khaleda have rotated as prime minister since 1991 amid unending enmity.
 
If that impasse is not broken, the BNP may boycott the poll, unleashing fresh unrest. Alternatively, there could be a repeat of 2007, when the army stepped in and installed a provisional government to crack down on the political thuggery and violence.

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Enayet Mowla from: US
November 16, 2013 5:19 PM
Only a few minutes ago I wrote my previous comment (?) but I want to mention here that what I wrote was not my comment at all, it was a fact. Comments however can be given by the readers themselves mentioning what action the leaders should take now. Another Care Taker Govt. or any other way.


by: Enayet Mowla from: US
November 16, 2013 4:57 PM
In theory many things look good but due to wrong handling the image changes. The Care Taker Govt. was a good system to run normal administration for a limited time only with a special responsibility to arrange an foolproof election. Sounds good but the last Care Taker Govt. became ambitious and with the help of Army sent both the leaders in jail and tried to remain in power permanently. After that, it is too much to expect that both Hasina and Khaleda will expect to handover power to another Care Taker Govt. After remaining in jail for nearly two years Hasina does not want it, but Khaleda, even after remaining in jail wants a similar Govt. for her own reasons.


by: kazi from: NYC
November 12, 2013 5:52 PM
way to Reuters! Kudos!! a very balanced and informed piece of reporting.


by: Zahir Khan from: UK
November 12, 2013 5:35 PM
The principle of caretaker government is unique and worked in the last election, under which both parties contested the election. International observers deemed it very fair. A caretaker government ensures that no party can use any of the institutions of the state apparatus to influence the election outcome. If an election is held under a sitting government, then the prevention of misuse and abuse of power to influence elections is not possible. Everybody knows that. However, once Awami League came to power, it abolished that law. Why ? So that it could do just that - hold elections and rigg the ballot.
This has nothing to do with secularists vs Islamists, as this article suggests. It has everything to do with the very principle of holding free and fair elections, and allowing the change or retainment of government in a peaceful way, as per the choice of the people. An all-party government while the Prime Minister stays in charge is pure nonsense, as in principle, the sitting Prime Minister would have all the power to pervert the course of the elections in favour of the sitting government.

In Response

by: Saleh Tanveer from: Columbus, Ohio
November 13, 2013 10:06 AM
The caretaker government was not abolished by the Supreme Court, as reported in response below by Mr. Tarun. While the CTG was declared unconstitutional in the first part of the verdict, the chief justice also said that the system may continue for another 2 terms. The government conveniently took the part it liked and discarded the part it did not like. Also, it is important on how Mr. Khairul Haque the ex-CJ got appointed. Hasina, through a pliant presidency, appointed him solely as CJ knowing that he had this well-known anathema towards the CTG system for sometimes so that he can give her the excuse she needs. Even then, the verdict was not fully in accord to her wishes because it allowed the system to continue in the near term.

In Response

by: Tarun from: Mumbai
November 13, 2013 4:04 AM
The caretaker system was abolished by Bangladeshi supreme court which is why Awami League abolished the law on caretaker government. If khaleda zia wants the system back she should appeal to bangladeshi supreme court but she wants to fight street battles not politics as she is just a puppet in hand of ISI and islamists. bangladeshis should be warned that while India will not interfere in your affairs, if your regime returns to ways of zia rule in early 2000 when bangladesh interfered in affairs of her neighbours by giving free run to HuJi then indian military not diplomacy will do the talking.

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