Wednesday 31 December 2008

Democracy returns to Bangladesh

The first General Election for seven years has resulted in a landslide victory for the Awami League, led by former prime minister Sheikh Hasina. The much delayed election ends two years of emergency rule by a military caretaker government.

As Time reports, competing ideas of Bangladesh were a central issue in the election campaign, with the Awami League campaigning on restoring the vision of secular democracy in the majority Muslim country against the emphasis on the need to "Save Islam" from the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), in office from 2001 to 2007, which campaigned in alliance with four Islamist parties. The Islamist Jamaat-i-Islami party suffered a significant setback, being reduced from 17 to 2 seats in Parliament - though it ought to struggle, given its role not in opposing Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan in 1971, including support for military atrocities.

The Times of India echoes most Bangladeshi media reaction in believing that this is a moment for 'cautious optimism' in South Asia.

The Awami League is credited with favouring inter-community harmony within Bangladesh and a foreign policy based on regional and international cooperation. It is important that Bangladesh, which has been vulnerable to forces of religious intolerance and seen the rise of terror outfits, be led towards social stability and economic prosperity. Muslims across the globe, from Indonesia to Turkey, have embraced democratic political systems in growing numbers. Bangladesh's return to this fold scores an important goal for democracy.

But the scale of the victory - with the Awami League and its allies holding more than 260 seats in the 300-seat Parliament - is causing concern, particularly as both major parties have poor recent records since 1991 when it comes to political polarisation, nepotism and corruption, with incumbency having led to crushing political defeats at the hands of the voters.

Bangladesh's Daily Star newspaper, celebrating the results, offers this warning to the victors:

People of Bangladesh have spoken, loudly, clearly and decisively. And it is not the first time that they have done so. For those who are stunned by the extent of the defeat of the 4-party alliance please remember the election of 2001. The then ruling party, the Awami League, was reduced to 62 seats. If that can be the verdict of the people at that time, then why can't the present results be considered the same?

BNP's devastating defeat is AL's most severest warning. The later must not forget for a moment how our people punish, and most severely so, when ruling parties fail to keep their promise to the people and live up to the latter's expectation of them. Two third's majority has always been a curse to those who got them. That is truer still if the victory is even bigger. The victors of yesterday's election must bear that in mind every moment of their coming five year tenure. More on that later. Today, we only celebrate people's victory over the corrupt.


Robert said...

Lets hope for peace and a government which governs for the people.

Unknown said...

It's fantastic news.Bangladesh is awash with interfering Saudi cash supporting Islamist causes, yet there's still an independence of mind in a young electorate which brings to mind the energy and principles of 1971.