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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Verdict against graft, war crimes, militancy


Voters lifted Awami League and its allies to unprecedented gains on a groundswell of feeling against patronage, corruption, war crimes and militancy in Monday's election.

THE PEACEFUL polling, with record turnout gave Sheikh Hasina's Awami League a stunning haul of 230 seats, a big enough majority in parliament to overcome procedural hurdles and pass legislation, and even tweak the country's constitution.

Observers are waiting to see how the party, which campaigned with the mantra of 'Change' to cut across social classes, will go about its business of governing the country that has runaway prices weighing on people, with most analysts saying the Hasina administration should attach priority to economy in the wake of the global recession.

Price hikes that began with the past BNP-led government from 2001-2006 and AL's hammering on graft—the reputation of former prime minister Khaleda Zia's sons and cabinet colleagues for using political perches to benefit themselves and their friends—were major reasons for the four-party's downfall in this election.

That women and religious minorities could cast their ballots without fear may also have been reason for the catastrophic losses suffered by BNP's ally Jamaat-e-Islami in particular, the party gaining only two seats in the next parliament.

Anti-war criminal sentiment that built up over the past two years also played havoc on the four-party alliance's polls prospects.

"Relentless campaigning against war criminals is the reason for the downfall of Jamaat," says Dhaka University history professor Syed Anwar Hossain.

Both BNP and Jamaat leaders have also been accused of aiding and abetting the Islamist militants who carried out attacks on Hasina and British envoy Anwar Choudhury, in a bid to shut their rivals out.

Their deeds over those five years likely prompted first-time voters, all post-independence generation, to reject hard line politics.

New voters, estimated at 30 percent of some 8 crore enrolled, were also drawn to young and new faces among AL candidates.

"People suffered during the four-party government and the issues of price hike, militancy and lack of good governance resulted in their losses," Hossain told

"People used the first tenure of the AL regime as a comparison yardstick, and the first four years of the first Awami League tenure were marked by success stories," he added.

"BNP's organisational weakness, image crisis due to the anticorruption crackdown contributed to its failure in securing a solid ground," Hossain observed.

"Bangladesh is a tilting nation, this time it has tilted towards AL."

"Hopefully, AL will establish a cautious, controlled and future oriented government."

Khaleda, Hasina's fiercest foe, after an emergency meeting with her policymakers the day after BNP's unprecedented polls debacle, stopped short of "rejecting" the election results but said the Election Commission's "staged results" were unacceptable.

There was concern that the BNP and its allies, which governed for five turbulent years until they stepped aside in October 2006 for a caretaker government, might contest the loss by calling mobs into the streets.

They cried foul play as the voting closed, alleging irregularities and slow voting.

But few of Khaleda's followers seemed to believe that the Election Commission, praised by international observers for its impartiality, would overturn the results on the basis of their spotty allegations of abuses.

The victory of the AL, and its allies, including former president HM Ershad's Jatiya Party, which polled 27 seats, appears increasingly likely to be accepted without a recurrence of the turmoil and violence that have often marred past elections in Bangladesh. #
First published by, January 1, 2008

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