Dhaka: If predictions are to be believed, it looks like Sheikh Hasina and her ruling Awami League, in alliance with a few small parties, will clinch third consecutive term in power at the general election on Sunday.
The Prime Minister and her supporters are in a buoyant mood not merely because they are confident of gaining a fresh five-year term in office but also because of the undeniable economic progress the government has presided over in the decade since January 2009.
Massive infrastructure projects, as well as programmes aimed at lifting people out of poverty, have in the past decade injected a growing sense of satisfaction among the population, a reality which even foreign governments have grudgingly appeared to acknowledge. In the campaign leading up to the election, Sheikh Hasina and her party have consistently emphasized continuity, warning that if the Opposition, symbolized largely by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of the currently jailed former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, were to return to office, all development works would come to a screeching halt.
The political opposition to the government, now shaped around the personality of the elderly Dr. Kamal Hossain in the form of the Jatiyo Oikya Front or National Unity Front, certainly has no arguments with the economic aspects of Sheikh Hasina’s leadership over the past ten years. But what it has been focusing on is the authoritarian nature, as it sees it, of the government in suppressing dissent and jailing hundreds of Opposition activists.
Kamal Hossain remains a respected political veteran in Bangladesh, having served in his younger days as constitutional advisor to the country’s founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Sheikh Hasina’s father, before taking over as Law Minister and then as Foreign Minister in his government. In the early 1980s, Hossain was instrumental in bringing Hasina back home from exile in India, where she had been living since the assassination of most of her family in a violent coup in August 1975, and seeing her take over as the chief of a faction-ridden Awami League. By the 1990s, though, Hossain and Hasina went for a parting of the ways over political differences. In recent years, Kamal Hossain has been a strident critic of what he perceives to be Sheikh Hasina’s undemocratic means of pursuing politics in the country.
Now 82, Kamal Hossain heads an Opposition alliance which, under present conditions, struggles to keep itself in the election against a mighty, even intimidating Awami League machine determined to seize victory at the polling stations.
Hossain has, of course, had much flak coming his way because within his alliance is the BNP, whose period of misrule and distortion of national history is a baggage it has carried for years without any demonstration of contrition. Making matters embarrassing for Hossain is that the BNP has handed out nominations to as many as 25 candidates from the Jamaat-e-Islami, a political party notorious for its active collaboration with the Pakistan occupation army during Bangladesh’s War of Liberation in 1971 and responsible for the abduction and murder of scores of leading Bengalis in various professions on the eve of victory in December 1971. In a recent interview with an Indian newspaper, Hossain made it known that had he been aware the Jamaat would be given nominations, he would not have provided leadership to the Opposition alliance.
That said, the Opposition faces an uphill battle in the elections. Khaleda Zia currently serves time in prison after her conviction for corruption. Her son Tarique Zia, who has been in exile in London for the past decade, has also been convicted for corruption. The BNP, which boycotted the election in January 2014, is thus without its dynastic leadership in this year’s election, the task for keeping the party’s hopes alive falling to party secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir.
The Opposition through Kamal Hossain and Alamgir have been urging people to make their way to the polling stations despite all the impediments put in their way by the authorities and cause what they have called a vote revolution. For their part, the authorities have placed severe restrictions on the movement of all forms of vehicles on Election Day, raising the very valid question of how voters will make their way to the polling stations. Road transport between Dhaka and the outlying districts will remain suspended till after the elections.
In a nutshell, the election pits the ruling Awami League, with its claims of having engineered remarkable economic progress in the past ten years, against the Opposition National Unity Front, with its emphasis on the violation of human rights and political dissent by what it considers an authoritarian government. An optimistic Awami League has its sights on forming a new government once the election is over. The Opposition waits for a miracle to happen, one that will propel it to power.
(With ANI inputs)