Hasina test: keep rivals in race
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said on Wednesday that she did not want any “conflict” over electioneering.
The message — 72 hours before over 10 crore voters in Bangladesh are scheduled to exercise their franchise on Sunday to elect the next government — seems to be aimed at blunting the Opposition’s allegations against the ruling party.
“I want the election to be conducted peacefully…. I am urging our supporters to be patient. I don’t want any conflict,” Hasina told a team of visiting Indian journalists.
The assertion came within minutes of the Prime Minister addressing three rallies — one each in Kushtia, Nawgaon and Chandpur districts — over video from her family residence Sudha Sadan in Dhaka’s Dhanmundi.
The theme of address for all the three rallies was woven around her plea to Awami League supporters to be accommodative so that the December 30 election passes off peacefully.
“The Oikya Front candidates are also in the fray. They should be allowed to campaign,” Hasina said in her speech meant for her comrades in Kushtia.
The National Unity Front is a fledgling platform against the ruling Awami League, with the main Opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, at its core. The combine includes several candidates of the banned political outfit Jamaat-e-Islami, who are in the running with the BNP’s paddy sheaf symbol.
The Prime Minister’s appeal to her supporters assumes significance against the backdrop of the Opposition’s sustained allegation that the government is using every state machinery at its command to deny its opponents a “level playing field” in the elections.
Amid growing speculation in Bangladesh on the possibility of the BNP-led Front bowing out of the elections, Opposition leaders have targeted the poll panel.
“The Election Commission’s activities will determine whether we and our alliance partners will stay in the race till the end,” BNP secretary-general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said, before labelling the panel “biased”.
Veterans in Dhaka said the Opposition noise bore signals of a pullout at the last minute. The BNP did not take part in the polls in 2014 as its demand for an election-time caretaker government was not met.
Unlike the last general election — during which around 300 lives were lost — the run-up this time so far has been more about political skirmishes and allegations and counter-allegations of muscle-flexing by candidates.
For Hasina, the challenge is to let the world know that Bangladesh has conducted its eleventh general election in a free and fair manner. The Opposition parties have drawn global attention by crying foul over the poll process.
“They do not have popular support. Nor do they have the necessary organisational support base…. They are trying to create problems to derail the poll process,” Hasina said during the interaction with the journalists.
The Prime Minister said she did not find any campaigning effort by the BNP-led Opposition during her visits to different parts of the country in the past few days.
“They are blaming us…. But if other parties can campaign, why can’t they?” she asked.
Several political observers expressed surprise at the lack of visibility of the BNP-led Opposition candidates. “They are yet to finalise poll agents to be deputed at the booths,” said a source.
While the BNP’s sympathisers attribute the apparent signs of lack of preparedness in the Opposition camp to a “reign of terror” unleashed by the Hasina regime, many in the capital link it to the BNP’s long absence from the political theatre since it pulled out of the last general election.
Replying to questions on the Opposition’s allegations of attacks — reports suggest that out of 287 incidents of violence between December 10 and 23, BNP campaign activities were the target in 109 cases — Hasina linked them to alleged internal disquiet in the BNP-led front.
“The seats were distributed through a process of auction and the highest bidders got the party symbol…. In this process, some genuine candidates lost out and these people are now antagonised with the official nominee,” said the Prime Minister.
“All this was done from London,” she said without naming Tareq Zia, the exiled son of BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia who is behind bars on graft charges.
“If we are back in power, we will bring him back to Bangladesh…. He is an accused in money-laundering, killing and aiding terror activities. The law demands him back,” Hasina added.
As there was an “if” in her answer, questions naturally arose on whether the veteran of many a battle was a bit nervous before the one on December 30.
“Not at all…. When I came back to the country in 1981, six years after almost my entire family was wiped out in a coup, all the murderers were around and they were in high places…. That situation was much more difficult,” Hasina signed off, exuding confidence.