The military-backed government in Bangladesh will hold elections in December. For this, the government has assured to relax the emergency imposed in January 2007. Yet doubts remain whether the polls will be free and fair.
Ex-premier Sheikh Hasina wants to take part in the elections
Former Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina arrived in Dhaka on Thursday, after spending five months receiving medical treatment in the USA. Hasina had been detained last year by the current military backed government on various corruption charges, but had been released on medical grounds.
Demand to call off the emergency
Hasina’s Awami League Party had earlier opposed the proposed elections on December 18, demanding that the government first scrap the emergency rule. On Monday, the military-backed government partially relaxed the emergency, allowing political rallies and processions.
Hasina has now agreed to contest, saying that the elections are crucial to ‘rescue the nation from a crisis’. She said that the elections should take place on the pre-assigned date and no excuses should be cited to postpone it.
‘’The fact that only an elected government can solve peoples' problems has become quite evident. Even if a particular party does not take part in the election, that should not have any effect on the election itself,’’ said Hasina.
BNP threatening boycott
The ‘particular party’ that Hasina was referring to is the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by long-time rival Begum Khaleda Zia. The BNP is considering boycotting the elections on account of the emergency.
Contesting the elections at this point would not be favourable to the BNP, since most of their main popular leaders are still behind bars. Here, the Awami League has an upper hand. Khaleda Zia has termed the circumstances unacceptable, saying that there is no level playing field. "In order to have a free and fair election the field has to be even for all parties. Then one can take part in the game,’’ she said, addressing a public rally in Chittagong.
Free and fair elections?
Elections in Bangladesh have had a rocky past, marred by rigging and violence. The government has assured stringent measures to prevent malpractices, including deploying troops, using transparent ballot boxes and digital voter lists. However, although the votes may not be rigged, this may not imply genuinely free and fair elections, says Ayesha Kabir, journalist and editor of the Probe news magazine in Dhaka.
"It will be a controlled election, in the sense that the people who the government is favouring will be allowed to participate in the elections, and the people who the government is not favouring, on various charges, on various excuses, wont be allowed to participate in the elections. So in that sense it wont be a 100 per cent credible election,’’ says Kabir.
When the present government came to power in January 2007, it had vowed to bring about political reforms and transparency into the current system. Yet Kabir says that there is a sense of disillusionment among the people, as the same leaders and businessmen arrested on corruption charges are now being released. So the general view is that the elections will not serve to remove corruption in Bangladesh, but maintain status quo.