11th National Election in Bangladesh: Tyrannical Development versus Democratic Freedom

  • Nazmul ISLAM

* ERASMUS Research Fellow, Europa Institute, Germany and PhD Candidate, Ankara Yildirim Beyazit University, Ankara, Turkey

Ever since the inception of Bangladesh in 1971 its politics have been featured by several types of seemingly endemic conflict, some of which have been associated with either periodic outbursts of violence or prolonged relatively low-key armed confrontations. Currently, the political situation in Bangladesh refers to an ‘abnormal crisis’. The form of crisis consists of mayhem, destruction and violence through abduction, crossfire, extra judicial killing, political arrests, physical detentions, and political dichotomy leads country to muggy, uncertain future. When the government has taken steps to control the situation towards arresting the opposition leaders incriminated in the involvement of violence that has created new phase of dispute and confrontation between the government and opposition party.

Nevertheless, critics argued that the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina has urged to the people to vote for his party ‘Bangladesh Awami League’ to continue for the development and prosperity of Bangladesh. It is clearly shows that last five years, Bangladesh has so many tangible and visible development especially in compare to her geographical and neighborhoods countries such as Pakistan, India and other South Asian countries.

Though, members of the opposition alliances things that the development of Bangladesh is an eyewash, but the contextual part is that people has lost their democratic rights and basic political freedom. As Kamal Hossain, the leader of the ‘opposition alliances’ said to the ‘Nikkie Asian Review’, “we have seen strong growth, but it is a mistake to credit the government…Economic success is the result of many factors, including above all, the efforts of our people. I believe that people want change, and if the election is minimally free and fair the opposition could win. My decision to set up a coalition was to provide people an option to bring about change through election.” However, it could be said that the current government that has presided over remarkable economic growth and infrastructural development in Bangladesh should enjoy broad support but the current scenario said the different things especially the public protests, and political violence and attacks on opposition party particularly the members of ‘United Front or Ukkoy Front’ including Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Bangladesh Jamat-e Islami (BJI) have surged ahead of Bangladesh’s national elections on Dec. 30, 2018 in different perspective. The last year (2017) report of Odhikar, a human rights organization, shows that 77 (Seventy Seven) people has been killed only for political violence even this number was high in 2018 (till the November) where 79 people were killed and 3826 people were injured only for political violence and most of them are the member of BNP and BJI.

Source: Odhikar, A Human Rights Organizations 2017 Report

The prime minister’s opponents believe that ‘a free and fair election’ will prevent this government because from the last ten (10) years, people are absolutely oppressed, unhappy, hopeless and tired with this government and they want change through applying their legitimate rights of vote. National and international human rights organizations suggest that the ruling party is utilizing its political equipment and state law enforcement agencies to destroy opposition party through the crossfire, arbitrary detentions and physical attacks even ‘Odhikar’ said that 449 people were ‘crossfire’ in this year. The media’s voice is totally stopped through the ‘new digital security law’. It is widely believe that the elections in Bangladesh are typically obvious by violence even in the last 2014 polls where opposition party including BNP and BJI boycotted the election, hundreds were killed over the government’s refusal to appoint an ‘interim caretaker administration’.

Source: Odhikar, date of Released- 9 December 2018

Sheikh Hasina, the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh, has cracked down on her main rival. Ms Khaleda Zia, the former Prime Minister and Opposition Leader, was put under house arrest in 2013 and then, in February this year, sentenced to five years in jail for misusing funds donated to a charitable children’s trust. In total, the 72-year-old, who was prime minister from 1991 to 1996 and 2001 to 2006, faced 34 charges. Her son, Tarique Rahman, serves as the BNP’s acting chairman from exile in London. He was also sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for his involvement in a 2004 grenade attack on an Awami League rally. The main Islamist political party, Bangladesh Jamat-e Islami (BJI) lost their five top leaders including the chief of their party, Motiur Rahman Nizami. Current government hanged them with their controversial ‘war crime tribunal’, though critics believes that it was happened only for their ‘political identity’. Arrests of opposition members and supporters have risen in the run-up to the election. The opposition alliances including Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Bangladesh Jamat-e Islami claims more than 10,000 were arrested what Aljazeera said on December 25, 2018 “about 7,000 activists and leaders have been arrested since November”. This month, the election commission ruled that nearly all 300 of the BNP candidates were ineligible to stand because of charges filed against them. In some instances, there are “more than 100 cases against a single candidate and most of the cases are false” said Asif Nazrul, professor of law at Dhaka University in the television talk show of Bangladesh.

Overwhelmingly, Sheikh Hasina has achieved much. Over her decade in power, the economy has grown on average 6.3 per cent a year. In recent years, the rate of growth has matched or exceeded that of both India and Pakistan. “The country has attracted $42bn in Chinese investment. Childhood mortality rates have been slashed, from 43 deaths per 1,000 live births to 26, fertility rates have fallen and school attendance has risen by more than 10 per cent even recently, Sheikh Hasina drew praise from the international community for accommodating 700,000 Rohingya refugees fleeing violent persecution in Myanmar”. But very unfortunately, the authoritarian role of the government that people have been forced to take a position against the government. According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW), since May, there have been almost 300 extrajudicial killings happened in Bangladesh even in September, the youth and student wing of current government (Awami League), the members of Chhatra League, used extremist acts against students who were protesting for safer roads in Dhaka. Journalists and the judiciary have also come under attack of current government. But, for the sake of ‘secularism’, elites and liberal person worries to critics the Bangladesh Awami League (BAL) and the prime minister of Sheikh Hasina.

In sum, the current situation of Bangladesh tells the story of prosperity and development of Sheikh Hasina government in one hand where critics fear the rising of authoritarianism and erosion of democracy in Bangladesh on other hand.

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