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Bangladeshi Nobel Peace Laureate to Enter Politics


Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus says he will start a new political party in Bangladesh to give a fresh democratic culture to the country. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi that most people have welcomed the move, despite some skepticism about his chances of success.

Three decades ago, Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, began giving tiny loans to poor people in Bangladesh to help them start small, income generating projects. His path-breaking work lifted millions out of poverty and made him a household name.

Now the "banker to the poor" is taking on an even more formidable challenge - cleansing the country's discredited and divisive political culture. He recently announced plans to start a new political party because he has had enough of what he calls the politics of "disunity and division". Yunus says he is looking for "honest" parliamentary candidates and plans to call his party "Citizens Power".

The head of Dhaka's Center for Policy Dialogue, Debapriya Bhattacharya, says the country is ripe for a new political initiative because most people are disillusioned with the perennial feuding between the two main parties, the Awami League, and Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

"This is a unique situation in Bangladesh, never had been in our whole history, where people were so disappointed with the ongoing traditional political institutions, and had been looking for reforms within these parties or alternatives in general."

The initiative by Yunus comes at a crucial juncture. In January, general elections were postponed indefinitely and an emergency imposed following months of political violence triggered by differences between the two parties that dominate the country's political landscape. A military-backed interim administration now rules the country.

Most people yearn for honest leadership in a country where political corruption is endemic, and where politicians have failed to deliver any real change. But some people worry that the murky world of Bangladesh's politics could taint the image of one of its most popular and respected men. Others doubt he can mobilize wide political support.

The editor of Daily Star, a leading newspaper, Mahfuz Anam, says many are hoping Yunus can create a new culture by focusing on the public good, even if he does not emerge as a major political player.

"Chances of success measured by capturing power through elections may be limited," Anam said, "but in terms of bringing about a qualitative changes in our politics, a politics which is focused on developmental work, focused on concerns of people's lives rather than rhetoric which has engulfed country… he does provide a formidable option."

Existing political parties have not reacted to the Yunus initiative, but observers say they will fiercely resist his efforts to provide people with a political alternative.