Political merry-go-round: Bangladesh’s revolving door politics and the redundant election

Bangladesh has been roiled by violent civil unrest since February of this year following the conviction and sentencing of several leaders of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party for war crimes committed during Bangladesh’s 1971 war for independence from Pakistan. Although regular protests and street clashes still occur, the major protagonists of the near continuous violent unrest have gradually shifted from supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami to those belonging to the Ruling Awami League (AL) and the major opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). This shift came as the elections drew closer and the war crimes trials became just another politicised election issue to galvanize popular support ahead of the polls. These elections are supposed to be held by 24 January 2014 at the latest. This is when the term of parliament ends.

However, despite the current government’s term limit rapidly expiring, there has been no election date set, nor has a constitutionally mandated provisional government been installed. This is due to a political impasse between the AL and the BNP on the nature and structure of the provisional government. This impasse has already led to the BNP enforcing three countrywide general strikes that resulted in the deaths of over 20 people and hundreds of others being injured as well as widespread arson and property damage.

Amongst all this violence and politics, both parties have continued to expound rhetoric about how they respectively offer the people of Bangladesh the best leadership and will lead the country out of its current quagmire of poverty and violence These statements are at best fallacious and can easily be termed to be outright untruths rolled out in the continued pursuit of power.

Dhaka’s halls of power have been dominated by the same two figures for the past twenty years; the premiership has been a revolving door between the AL’s Sheik Hasina and the BNP’s Khaleda Zia since 1991 following a virtual identical pattern of political violence and re-election. This pattern is endemic of Bangladesh’s stagnated political class and system that has very few rising stars as leadership positions in the major parties are become bottle-necked for years if not decades. This is even illustrated in the ongoing war crimes trials; the Jamaat-e-Islami and BNP leaders who are being prosecuted, are currently in high profile leadership positions in the party, and have served at this level of leadership since the end of the war.

With an aging political class and the youth relegated to party youth-wings, it is small wonder that Bangladeshi politics have stagnated in recent years. Unless the leadership of both the BNP and the AL, learn to actively groom young politicians and consciously step aside to create space for them Bangladeshi politics will continue to be dominated by violence, lack of discourse and tag-team rulers. Thus leading to the inability to focus on the country’s multitude of pressing issues such as endemic poverty, corruption and perhaps the most serious of all, the fact that Bangladesh is at extreme risk from the negative effects of global warming, including food insecurity and population displacement.

Until these internal-party reforms are undertaken elections in Bangladesh are going to be an exercise in Pyrrhic Futility.


By  Brendan von Essen, Asia analyst

Follow him on twitter: @AsiaPacRisk

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