Bangladesh long-derailed from democratic path

M Moyeen Munna
Dhaka, Bangladesh - March 08, 2022: Traffic jam in Mirpur road of Dhaka. Traffic jam is a regular sore day in and day out to the people of Bangladesh capital Dhaka.

The free world must act now to restore democracy and protect the Bangladeshi people

Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) Bangladesh, a South Asian country of 165 million population, is being ruled for almost one and a half decades by an autocratic regime headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who has clung on to power violating the people‘s rights, hijacking the mandate in the two consecutive parliamentary elections, in 2014 and 2018. Her law enforcement personnel have killed hundreds of opposition activists and ordinary citizens dumping many bodies, detained thousands of people implicating them in fabricated lawsuits and thus turned Bangladesh into a one-party fascist state.

Ms Hasina’s kangaroo court has jailed popular leader Begum Khaleda Zia, the country’s first woman Prime Minister who served two full five-year terms and one short term for allowing snap polls. The false charges that were framed against Ms Zia are not just taken into cognizance by courts in any civilised country, let alone prosecution and conviction.

Everything Ms Hasina’s regime does is to stop the people from exercising their democratic rights, disregarding the country’s history. Bangladesh came into being in 1971 with the promise of a democratic republic. People in this part of the world embrace any electoral competition the way they join their colourful festivals. The country saw a number of participatory elections except the ones held during the rules of Ms Hasina herself, one-party state of her father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman between 1973 and 1975 and military ruler General HM Ershad between 1982 and 1990 and after the coup by General Moyeen U Ahmed in 2007. Ms Hasina benefited from both the military leaders for or by contesting the manipulated elections in 1986 and 2008.

In fact, Ms Hasina, chief of ruling Awami League party, never won a fair election, except the one, yet through behind the scenes compromises, held in 1996, when Ms Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) still emerged as the largest opposition party in history, winning 116 seats in a national assembly of 300 members. Ms Hasina’s party was clearly beaten by Ms Khaleda Zia-led BNP in the two most credible elections, in 1991 and 2001. According to records, Ms Zia individually never lost any elections (1991, 1996, 2001 and 2008) whereas Ms Hasina and her party were losers in elections held 1978, 1979, 1981, 1991 and 2001. She knew very well she would have faced humiliating defeat both in 2014 and 2018 elections, had there been a fair electoral atmosphere. Thus Ms Hasina has been angry at the people for her poor electability and likeability and popular support to Ms Zia and her late husband Ziaur Rahman, who founded the BNP but was assassinated in a military coup in 1981.

So, once assuming power, Ms Hasina made no mistake in making attempt to perpetuate her stay in power. Before the 2001 elections as well, she took possession of the Prime Minister’s official residence ‘Gano Bhaban’ and readied the administration to manipulate the polls but could not do so since there was a system of election-time ‘caretaker government’ to ensure fair-play. The first of such an interim administration was installed after a mass upsurge had led to the fall of the autocratic Ershad regime in 1990. Ms Hasina lost that (1991) election, as it is mentioned earlier. When she managed to return to power by manipulating the 2008 elections through conspiracy with the military-controlled government of 2007-08, she scrapped the constitutional provision of the caretaker government in 2011. She has kept no scope for holding free and fair voting. Her Awami Legaue has proved itself to be a fascist party as it killed the electoral process whenever it was in state power.

The opposition BNP had boycotted the 2014 elections but Ms Hasina’s government in collaboration with her-appointed Election Commission captured 153 out of 300 parliamentary seats without any contest and the rest by using force. The regime took all repressive measures to establish a totalitarian state and unfortunately became successful.

In 2018, the BNP joined the elections following requests from the country’s development partner countries and some dignitaries at home and abroad but Ms Hasina abused all her power, leading from the front the process of stuffing ballot papers the night before the elections. Her Election Commission just rubberstamped the results.

All along, Ms Hasina acted like Adolf Hitler and ruthless rulers of the middle ages. She uses all instruments available to her to silence not only the opposition leaders and workers but also any dissenting voice. She has politicised all state institutions, appointed her party cadres and sycophants in key positions, made morally corrupt people as judges, cracked down on the independent media but created her propaganda machinery, and awarded business contracts and economic benefits only to her followers and patrons.

The Hasina government undertook a nuclear power plant project at more than double cost (US$14 billion) to please Vladimir Putin’s Russia and also received loans at high interest rates from China. She sought help from Indian Premier Narendra Modi to import food and fuel from Russia and also to persuade the Biden administration so that the US does not demand fair elections in Bangladesh. Ms Hasina’s beneficiaries siphoned off billions of dollars they accumulated through corrupt and illegal means.

Since the next parliamentary elections are slightly over one year away, the domestically illegitimate Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, is desperately trying to appease foreign leaders to support or at least ignore an election which she can stage in her party’s favour by using forces, crookedness and money. This time around, her collaborators and followers are nervous due to the sanctions imposed on seven law enforcement officials by Washington for their inhuman actions of killing and torturing innumerable political activists and innocent people. Still, her government is not allowing the opposition to peacefully demonstrate and raise their demand for restoration of democracy including formation of an election-time government for creating a level-playing field for all political parties during the elections.

If the gang of state-sponsored terrorists and thugs Ms Hasina leads can deny a participatory and universally acceptable election once again, Bangladesh will see the remaining opposition forces and opinion leaders are all but wiped out. In that case, a country which boasts of demographic dividend for its youth population will face the consequences of other undemocratic countries.

The European Union, as a major development partner, has the scope to support the Bangladesh people in finding a democratic atmosphere where they can live in peace and grow as a nation. They deserve a just and equitable system of governance for their future generations. In this context, the European Parliament can pass a resolution calling on the United Nations and Bangladesh’s friends worldwide to take steps, measures and initiatives required to compel the Hasina regime to step down so that an election-time government is constituted for allowing the people to choose their leaders. To protect them and support their democratic journey, the world must act now, or else, never will there be a chance of doing so.

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