Bangladesh gears up for gen­eral elec­tion in 2018


DHAKA: Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina, who is the pres­i­dent of the rul­ing Bangladesh Awami League (AL), of­fi­cially launched her elec­tion cam­paign on Tues­day.

The gen­eral elec­tion in Bangladesh is sched­uled to be held by the end of the year.

The prime min­is­ter of­fered a prayer at the holy shrine of Mus­lim saint Hazrat Shah Jalal in Syl­het di­vi­sion, some 300 km from the cap­i­tal Dhaka, and launched her elec­tion cam­paign there.

Mean­while, the Bangladesh Na­tion­al­ist Party (BNP), an­other ma­jor po­lit­i­cal stake­holder, is strug­gling with the po­lit­i­cal fu­ture of its chair­per­son Begum Khaleda Zia due to a graft case, which is sched­uled to be de­cided in court on Feb. 8.

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts, how­ever, ex­pect free, fair and in­clu­sive polls to be held some time be­tween Oct. 31 and Dec. 31, 2018.

“In the demo­cratic process, an elec­tion is a must. To com­ply with the con­sti­tu­tional obli­ga­tion, the AL will take part in the next gen­eral elec­tion,” said Khalid Mah­mud Chowd­hury, a par­lia­men­tar­ian and or­ga­niz­ing sec­re­tary of the AL.

Chowd­hury told Arab News: “The BNP chair­per­son’s trial in a graft case is a mile­stone in es­tab­lish­ing the rule of law in a coun­try like Bangladesh. If the BNP goes for van­dal­iz­ing and anar­chy in re­ac­tion to the ver­dict of the case, the peo­ple of the coun­try will re­sist it. Peo­ple do not con­done an an­ar­chic sit­u­a­tion any­more.”

Although ten­sion is build­ing for BNP pol­i­cy­mak­ers and its mem­bers over the graft case ver­dict for Zia, who has served as the coun­try’s pre­mier three times, the party feels that the ver­dict will not have any neg­a­tive im­pact on it in the elec­tion.

Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, senior joint sec­re­tary gen­eral of the BNP, called the graft case against Zia “po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated” and claimed that the rul­ing party was bound to lose its pop­u­lar­ity among vot­ers for “ha­rass­ing” its key po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent.

Rizvi told Arab News that “if the court de­clares the ver­dict against the chair­per­son, we will protest it strongly in a demo­cratic way.”

The BNP boy­cotted the gen­eral elec­tion in 2014, de­mand­ing the rein­tro­duc­tion of a care­taker gov­ern­ment dur­ing the elec­tion pe­riod, which even­tu­ally led to more than half of the cur­rent Par­lia­ment mem­bers be­ing elected un­con­tested. This year, the BNP has again de­manded an “Elec­tion Pe­riod As­sist­ing Gov­ern­ment.”

“The BNP is a pro-elec­tion party, and to en­sure a level-play­ing field dur­ing the elec­tion we are de­mand­ing this ‘Elec­tion Pe­riod As­sist­ing Gov­ern­ment.’ Still, we have 11 months in hand and I be­lieve the prime min­is­ter of the coun­try also wants an in­clu­sive gen­eral elec­tion for the next Par­lia­ment,” said Ru­min Farhana, a bar­ris­ter and the as­sis­tant in­ter­na­tional af­fairs sec­re­tary of the BNP.

While the two ma­jor par­ties are con­cerned about the for­ma­tion and na­ture of the elec­tion pe­riod gov­ern­ment, the coun­try’s left­ist po­lit­i­cal wing has ex­pressed a dif­fer­ent con­cern.

“The elec­tion should be or­ga­nized by the elec­tion com­mis­sion of the coun­try. The gov­ern­ment dur­ing that pe­riod will only do the ‘rou­tine work’ ac­cord­ing to the con­sti­tu­tion and the gov­ern­ment will only fa­cil­i­tate the role of the elec­tion com­mis­sion. Now, we just need to de­fine this rou­tine work,” said Ruhin Hos­sain Prince, the sec­re­tary of the Com­mu­nist Party of Bangladesh. The left-wing par­ties are plan­ning to form an eight-party po­lit­i­cal al­liance to com­pete in the next par­lia­men­tary elec­tion, Prince said.

Pro­fes­sor Ataur Rah­man, pres­i­dent of the Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence As­so­ci­a­tion, told Arab News: “So far in the race, the rul­ing party is in a bet­ter po­si­tion. But in the end, we might ex­pe­ri­ence a good elec­tion.”

“The rul­ing AL is im­ple­ment­ing its de­vel­op­ment agenda, han­dling the Ro­hingya cri­sis suc­cess­fully, tak­ing the Is­lamic po­lit­i­cal par­ties into con­fi­dence, and ad­dress­ing the de­mands of dif­fer­ent pro­fes­sional groups.”

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