The Commonwealth Observer

Bangladesh crisis near ‘point of no return’ in effort to marginalize opposition

Murray Burt
Written by Murray Burt

Fire bombs, trains derailments, street protests – Bangladesh is witnessing a surge in political violence which has killed 50 people.

The latest episode of political volatility in the South Asian nation began when police banned protests in the capital Dhaka and confined Khaleda Zia, the leader of the country’s main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Zia had earlier called for demonstrations on the anniversary of last year’s general election. Her party and its partners boycotted the 2014 elections after being told there would be no neutral monitor overseeing the voting, thus allowing incumbent PM Sheikh Hasina to win a new 5-year term.

With no side willing to back down, the political crisis in Bangladesh is worsening. Analyst Samina Ahmed tells DW there is an increased risk of military intervention as political battle lines become ever-more entrenched.

The latest period of political turmoil in Bangladesh began when police banned protests by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in the capital Dhaka on the anniversary of last year’s general election on January 5. Former PM and BNP leader Khaleda Zia had called for demonstrations to protest against the government of PM Sheikh Hasina, leader of the ruling Awami League (AL). Zia’s party and its partners boycotted the 2014 elections after being told there would be no neutral monitor overseeing the voting, thus allowing Hasina to win a new five-year term.

Analyst say the latest round of political violence – which has claimed the lives of more than 50 people – marks a new phase of the deadlock between the ruling AL and the BNP, which have swapped time in government since the South Asian nation’s independence from Pakistan.

The ongoing crisis has also led to frequent strikes and transport blockades, hampering economic activity in the country by preventing businesses from operating normally and hurting ordinary citizens’ economic prospects. Nearly 800 vehicles firebombed or damaged and two owners of TV stations have been arrested. While the BNP appears bent on ousting the government via street power, the ruling AL seems determined to neutralize the opposition.

Political violence is not a new occurrence in the South Asian nation.

Samina Ahmed, South Asia Project Director and Senior Asia Adviser at the International Crisis Group, says in a DW interview that with daily violence at the pre-election level, Zia and Hasina should urgently seek ways to end the political crisis which is fast approaching the point of no return and could gravely destabilize the country.

DW: What lies at the core of the ongoing political crisis in Bangladesh?

Samina Ahmed: “The two major parties have failed to adhere to basic standards for a multi-party democracy. Even when the AL and the BNP were both in parliament, the opposition rarely fully accepted the legitimacy of the government, and resorted to strikes and other extra-parliamentary measures, while ruling party used unconstitutional means to suppress opposition.”

Source: DW with analyst Jasmin Lorch

Photo credit: Global Panorama / cc

About the author

Murray Burt

Murray Burt

Murray Burt has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, starting as a cadet reporter in New Zealand, and doing two stints with wire services on Fleet Street before settling in Canada in the newspaper business. He is a retired managing editor of the Winnipeg Free Press, and former city and national editor of The Globe and Mail in Toronto. He is a past-president of the CJA and has been a life member since 2003, participating in each of its conferences and CPU’s conferences since 1990. He is a director of the Advisory Council of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, based in New Delhi; president of Manitoba’s newly-reconstituted Royal Commonwealth Society; and has directorships in the Duke of Edinburgh Awards and the Canadian Forces Liaison Council (western Canada).

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