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Despair and confusion rule Bangladesh politics PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 28 April 2008

REUTERS, DHAKA - Bangladesh is at a political crossroads, analysts say, with the country uncertain whether it needs to follow a path of continued reform or revert back to the status quo that has existed for much of the country's history.

The debate comes at a time of uncertainty over the south Asian country's political future, although preparations for an election later this year are underway despite threats by major parties to boycott it unless their leaders are freed from prison.

"Politics has hit a phase of infertility," said analyst, Abul Kashem Fazlul Haque. An interim government was supposed to organise elections early last year, but cancelled them in the wake of widespread political violence and declared a state of emergency.

Vowing to finally eradicate corruption and to clean up the political scene, the army-backed interim government arrested the leaders of the Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and scores of others, and they are in jail facing graft trials.

But despite initially being pleased with the clean-up, many Bangladeshis are now questioning the interim government's commitment to democracy. "We are hoping against hope," said Ataur Rahman, president of Bangladesh Political Science Association.

"But despite growing despair and doubts over the performances of the interim government ... it would be unfair and risky to submit to hopelessness." Analysts say despite legitimate demands for the release of former prime ministers Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia -- respective leaders of the Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) -- the country needs an injection of fresh blood.

"It's okay to demand that the old leaders come out of jail, but it should not be seen as an obstacle for others who might take their mantle," said Haque. Politicians and the authorities both need to ensure the country does not revert to the situation before the January 11, 2007, when the interim government took over, the analysts said.

They said electing the traditional old guard would be a mistake, as they were driven by self interest. After Hasina and Khaleda were arrested, senior leaders in their parties spoke of drastic internal reforms to curtail their powers, but gradually they've climbed down.

"We cannot afford to go back," said Syed Mohammd Ibrahin, a retired army major-general and chief of the recently formed Bangladesh Kalyan (welfare) Party. "If we do, that will take us downhill...into a more disastrous political and economic future," he added.

Debate is also raging over whether the government should lift the emergency now, or nearer to the elections. The Awami League and BNP say they may not participate in an election unless the emergency is lifted, but other parties -- including the Jatiya party led by former military ruler Hossain Mohammad Ershad -- want the emergency to stay until after the polls.

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