Democracy Returns in Bangladesh

Sheikh Hasina Wajed's Awami league won the Bangladesh elections on 30th December 2008 with an overwhelming majority. As a winner of the first parliamentary elections in seven years, she has urged her defeated rival, Khaleda Zia, who leads the rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to accept the results. Hasina has offered cabinet posts to the BNP in return for cooperation. "I think she should accept the people's verdict because this election is a free, fair and transparent election," said Hasina. The Awami League leader said: "We call upon all who participated in the election, that in a parliamentary election, we can all work together. I'm ready to work with everybody."

Bangladesh Awami League has secured more than 260 seats in parliament, while BNP won 31. In 2001 elections, the BNP had got landslide victory. The BNP-led alliance has complained of rigging at more than 200 polling stations.

In the aftermath of the the withdrawal of the state of emergency on 17 December 2008 by the Caretaker Government, and the restoration of rights that had been fully or partially curbed in Bangladesh during the past two years, Bangladesh Election Commission set a new date of 29 December for general elections. The polls were earlier planned for 18 December but Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), one of the country's two main parties had refused to participate saying that it needed more time. The BNP of former prime minister Khaleda Zia wanted the elections to be deferred to the month of January, 2009.

She has been country's Prime Minister thrice. She is the wife of slain President
General Ziaur Rahman, one of the sector commanders of Liberation War Sector Commander and announcer of Independence declaration on behalf of Bangabandhu in 1971.

Its main rival, the Awami League Party of Sheikh Hasina has termed the delay in holding the elections as unfair. Hasina too has been the Prime Minister thrice.

Due to the military take over, the election due for early 2007 under neutral care taker government were postponed. Months of strikes and street violence forced the army to step in and postpone the elections in 2006. The current caretaker government declared a state of emergency and locked up both party leaders on corruption charges. The declaration of state of emergency on 11 January 2007 and postponement of the general elections was necessitated by the violence between rival political groups from late October 2006 to early January 2007.

Even the last general elections of October 2001 were marred by violent clashes between members and supporters of opposing political parties.

However, it must be remembered that human rights groups like Amnesty International has noted that between January 2007 and August 2008, more than 200 persons died in what police, Rapid Action Battalion and army units deployed to maintain law and order have portrayed as "crossfire" but are suspected to be extra judicial executions.

The Hindu minority group has also been a target of electoral and communal violence. Student groups of the main political parties have been among the main perpetrators of political violence in Bangladesh. These groups include Bangladesh Chattra Dhal (BCD, affiliated to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party), Bangladesh Chattra League (affiliated
to the Awami League)and Islami Chattra Shibir (affiliated to Jamaat-e-Islami).

The partial withdrawal, on 3 November 2008, of the ban on political rallies was not implemented until 12 December. Journalists and human rights defenders have suffered during harassment, intimidation or abuse. Some of them claimed to have been tortured while in custody.

Right to Information Ordinance promulgated in October 2008 is likely to have a positive impact on freedom of expression when it comes into operation in early 2009.

Fear of attacks against minorities, including Hindus and Ahmadiyya community is a real concern. Electoral violence during and immediately after the parliamentary elections of October 2001 comprising of sporadic attacks against minorities. Crowds of assailants, whom journalists and survivors described as members of the Bangladesh
Nationalist Party (BNP)-led coalition, which won the elections, drove hundreds of Hindu families off their land, and in some cases burnt their homes, apparently on grounds of the Hindus' perceived support for the opposition Awami League party. Besides these minorities, Bengali settlers and indigenous communities especially in Chittagong Hill Tracts also need proper state protection.Statements by Jamaat-e-Islami and Jatiya Party (Ershad) that they will introduce blasphemy laws are of serious concern.

Bangladeshi newspapers reported that dozens of Hindu women had been raped and at least one Hindu man was hacked to death.

Bangladesh had a brief spell of credible democracy after independence in 1971, but went off-track after the death of founder president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in a 1975 military coup. Following a coup in 1977 army chief General Ziaur Rahman father of
Khaleda Zia declared himself as President in 1978. BNP of Khaleda Zia ruled the country from 1976 till the unfortunate murder of its founder in 1981.

General Ershad ruled the country from 1982 to 1991. BNP won the general elections and ruled the country from 1992-96. Khaleda Zia led alliance ruled the country from 2002-2006.

In exile, Sheikh Hasina became the leader of the Awami League. She returned to Bangladesh on May 17, 1981. Sheikh Hasina led Awami League ruled from 1996 to 2001. She is eldest and one of the surviving daughters of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who was killed with his entire family on August 15, 1975. She survived because she was on a visit to West Germany.

After years of rule by army generals in and out of uniform, Mujib's daughter Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, the widow of slain president Ziaur Rahman, alternated as prime minister over a 15-year period ending in late 2006.

Mobilization of 50,000 troops by the Caretaker Government ensured peaceful elections in the country.

Interestingly, both the Prime Ministerial candidates were held in prison for a year on charges of alleged graft and abuse of power till recently.


SHEIKH HASINA is the survivor of assassination spent six years in exile

She is the eldest of the five children of Bangabandhu, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was born on Sept. 28, 1947, at the place of her fathers birth-Tungipara in Gopalganj.
In 1968, she was married to an eminent scientist, M.A. Wazed Mih. They have a son and a daughter. Sheikh Hasina graduated from the University of Dhaka. She was active in student union. When the Bangabandhu was assassinated on Aug. 15, 1975, the assassins killed every member of his family they found in the house. Sheikh Hasina and her younger sister Sheikh Rehana escaped the fate of the rest


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