Election Stalemate in Bangladesh

Shahbag_Circle_(Projanmo_Chattar),_Dhaka,_Bangladesh_2013-02-14_Nasir_KhanA continuing impasse on coming polls could throw the country into turmoil.

By Mahendra Ved.

A political impasse is tearing Dhaka apart with continued strikes and violent demonstrations. Bangladesh has seldom had a smooth election, but this recent turmoil is putting the young nation’s tender democratic foothold at risk. In the midst of war crimes trials being held for significant political personas, the two lead political parties are producing a stalemate over the formation of a temporary caretaker government that is supposed to oversee elections.

The U.N. sent special envoy Oscar Fernandez-Taranco to negotiate a settlement in time. He optimistically outlined four factors for achieving a breakthrough: “If we have a political will, if we have leadership, if we have an attitude of compromise, and, most importantly, if we are engaged in a peaceful dialogue.”

However, two weeks into the visit and with as much time left for the elections of the tenth parliament, none of these conditions prevail in Bangladesh. The Special Envoy’s mission appears to have failed. Counseling by several governments, including India and the USA, has also not helped cut the proverbial Gordian knot.

There are no signs of reconciliation between the principal players nor of the election, due on January 5, being held peacefully so the country can return to normal life.

On October 26, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League and her rival Begum Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) held a telephone conversation to discuss the possibility of a dialogue between the ruling and opposition parties to end the stalemate. It was the first direct conversation between the two leaders since 2009. However, there was no breakthrough. The two have not met nor talked again and the deadlock remains.

A resolution to the crisis could rest on these two women, called the “battling begums of Dhaka”. They represent two opposing family legacies. Hasina’s father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the founding leader of Bangladesh who was assassinated in a military coup d’etat in 1975 in which complicity of the then-deputy Army Chief, Major General Ziaur Rahman is alleged. The General, popularly known as Zia, eliminated all opposition to him from within and outside the Army and became the President. Founder of the BNP, he was assassinated in another coup in May 1981.

Both women leaders are pushing their respective legacies to bid for power. They have dominated politics in Bangladesh for more than two decades, and mutual suspicion bordering on hatred has blocked attempts at reconciliation between them.

Hasina is now opposing the formation of a caretaker government to oversee elections, even if it means …

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