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Vantage | Why Bangladesh is stuck in a cycle of poll-related violence

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Vantage | Why Bangladesh is stuck in a cycle of poll-related violence

The current political crisis has attracted international condemnation with Western agencies criticising the government's handling of the situation

The Vantage Take December 20, 2023 18:21:28 IST Vantage | Why Bangladesh is stuck in a cycle of poll-related violence

A security officer inspects the damage inside a passenger train that caught fire, killing four people in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Tuesday. AP

As Bangladesh gears up for its upcoming elections on 7 January, less than three weeks away, the atmosphere is tense and marred by violent incidents. Despite the anticipated victory for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is poised to secure her fourth consecutive term, recent events have cast a shadow over the electoral process.

In a tragic incident on Monday, a train en route to capital Dhaka was set ablaze claiming the lives of four individuals including a mother and her child. The incident has raised concerns about the escalating violence in the country with reports of buses being set on fire, vehicles damaged and clashes between protesters and the police, resulting in at least six fatalities.

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Political blame game

Amidst the turmoil, Bangladesh’s railway minister has pointed fingers at the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the main opposition party, accusing its protesters of setting the train on fire.

The BNP has been engaged in weeks-long protests marked by violence since October. The government asserts that the opposition is orchestrating violence under the guise of anti-government protests, while the BNP denies all charges of arson and sabotage.

Opposition’s boycott

In a further twist to the political drama, the BNP has chosen to boycott the upcoming elections.

“(What) I believe about the 7n January polls is that people will boycott it. They won’t go to cast their votes. BNP is already out of this farcical poll. Also people will align with the BNP boycotting this election,” said opposition activist Kabir Patwary.

Opposition leader Kamal Hossain said, “The government keeps saying that BNP went into hibernation. We have not. Today is proof of that. Our grassroots have come out on the streets. We will kick out this government on to the streets.”

Bangladesh, which gained independence in 1971, has seen a power struggle between two major parties—the Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina and the BNP led by Khaleda Zia. The current unrest is reminiscent of the 2014 elections, which the BNP boycotted, leading to an uncontested victory for the Awami League. In 2019, the BNP contested but faced defeat, setting the stage for the current political turmoil.

Abolition of caretaker system

The political landscape shifted in 2009 when the Awami League returned to power, and the caretaker system, meant to ensure free and fair elections, was abolished by a Supreme Court order. Subsequent elections were held under the Hasina administration sparking dissatisfaction from the BNP.

The current political crisis has attracted international condemnation with Western agencies criticising the government’s handling of the situation. Western governments, including the United States, have expressed concern and attempted to intervene in the electoral process, leading to pushback from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Amidst the turmoil, the Awami League has made a concession by offering a seat-sharing agreement with the Jatiya Party, the third-largest party in Bangladesh. The Awami League will relinquish 26 seats out of the total 300, allowing the Jatiya Party to likely secure those seats. Additionally, six seats have been left for a 14-party alliance, aiming to create the appearance of a competitive election.

Despite these efforts, the BNP remains defiant, demanding Sheikh Hasina’s resignation. The ongoing violence and arson are seen as a manifestation of the opposition’s insistence on bringing about political change.

As Bangladesh approaches its pivotal elections, the nation finds itself at a crossroads marked by political unrest, violence and a contentious electoral process. The international community continues to monitor the situation closely, emphasising the importance of a peaceful and democratic resolution to the current crisis.

Views expressed in the above piece are personal and solely that of the author. They do not necessarily reflect Firstpost’s views.

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