The Blog

Bangladesh and a Government in Denial

It is now clear that Bangladesh is mired in an intractable political crisis. The main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), has boycotted next month's general election.

It is now clear that Bangladesh is mired in an intractable political crisis. The main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), has boycotted next month's general election. Now, in a devastating blow to Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League Party, their ruling collation partners in the Jatiya Party have joined the exodus. The six Jatiya ministers, part of a hastily arranged 'interim' government set up by the Awami League, have joined the exodus.

Immediately after Jatiya Chairman HM Ershad's call to boycott the election, members of the Government's Rapid Action Battalion cordoned off his official residence. This latest episode may prove to be highly significant.

With this in mind, any election will be clearly illegitimate. 11 of the 39 registered political parties in Bangladesh have signed up for these polls. With one eye on the deteriorating security situation, the intervention of the army is now an increasingly likely scenario.

Many observers point out that this impasse was inevitable. Ever since the Bangladeshi constitution was altered to end the guaranteed imposition of a caretaker administration, the incumbent government has attempted to distort the democratic process to their advantage. Add to this the historic political deadlock that has always existed between Bangladesh's two political matriarchs - Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina - and this is a perfect recipe for a protracted deadlock.

It is for the benefit of all Bangladeshis that a fair election is conducted as soon as possible. A political resolution may curtail heightened emotions amongst the Bangladeshi opposition. Until then the violence will only continue as the country becomes more polarised each day. This week alone human rights groups claim at least 20 people have been killed during the nationwide strikes, called by the opposition. Further accusations of beatings and random arrests abate

The warning signs have been here for a while. Many of us who witnessed this intransigence by the Awami League led Government warned that the country risked imploding if the government's current path did not change.

At the heart of these troubles has been the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT). From the outset it was clear that the trails risked destabilising Bangladesh before this election period, as the government manipulated the process to arrest opposition leaders. Soon stories of the most appalling behaviour by judges and prosecutors emerged. When the Economist magazine's 'Skypegate' scandal broke almost a year ago - implicating the Tribunal, prosecutors and outside actors in a collusion over pre-emptive judgments - some hoped that the government would initiate immediate steps to reform the ICT.

Justice is desperately needed to catalyse a process of reconciliation in Bangladesh. If the deep divisions in domestic opinion over this tribunal demonstrated anything, it is a nation that has not reconciled with the atrocities committed at its birth. Sadly, the ICT has created a rift within Bangladeshi society that will take a generation to heal. The ruling Awami League has swatted away criticism of the tribunal while the streets burned, and showed unsavoury hubris reminiscent of governments in their twilight.

Now with one eye on the elections, the government also de-registered the Islamic Jamaat-e-Islami party from the elections. Meanwhile, the BNP will also see some of their leadership, along with Jamaat, face the noose. The first executions from the ICT's trial may begin in less than a week. That Sheikh Hasina could not predict a galvanizing of the opposition under the banner of such injustice shows an incomprehensible recklessness and naivety.

Some remain hopeful a solution within the current constitutional framework is still possible. Either way, what has unfolded in Bangladesh is a tragedy. The government's hijacking of the most painful part of a nation's collective memory for its own political ends is deplorable. They have ignored every warning sign. Frustratingly, despite the protestations from those who have witnessed the farce of the ICT from the outset, it is only now the international community is waking up to a nation standing at the precipice. And as Sheikh Hasina also stares into the abyss, she only has herself to blame.

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