On Sunday, Bangladesh will vote in its 11th normal elections, which shall be held amid widespread violence, deep distrust and wrangling between the federal government and the opposition.
Regardless of incomes international plaudits for sheltering almost one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, the nine-year tenure of incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was marked by allegations of creeping authoritarianism, crushing of political rivals and a gag on media freedom.
Hasina, 71, is searching for a file fourth time period. Her social gathering, the Awami League (AL), leads the Grand Alliance coalition, which is pitted in opposition to the Jatiya Oikya Entrance (or Nationwide Unity Entrance), led by the primary opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Celebration (BNP).
Each Hasina and Zia belong to political households, share a protracted rivalry and have alternated in energy for many of the previous three a long time in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.
In Zia’s absence, the Nationwide Unity Entrance alliance is being led by Kamal Hossain, 82, an Oxford-educated jurist and former regulation minister.
Hossain, nevertheless, just isn’t contesting and due to this fact, it’s not clear who would be the prime minister if the opposition alliance wins.
|Hasina and Zia have alternated in energy for many of the previous three a long time [Al Jazeera]|
What makes it a high-stakes election
The Bangladesh parliamentary elections are being seen as a litmus check for the way forward for democracy on this planet’s eighth-most populous nation of over 170 million individuals.
The final election in 2014 was boycotted by the BNP and shunned by worldwide observers as “an electoral farce”. Greater than half the seats remained uncontested that yr, giving Hasina’s social gathering a walkover.
A repeat of the one-sided 2014 election is being feared this yr amid the opposition’s allegations of assaults on its candidates and harassment by the federal government.
Ali Riaz, professor within the division of politics and authorities at Illinois State College within the US, informed Al Jazeera that the election is critical for 2 causes.
“One, this can be a second to alter the nation’s route away from authoritarianism, which noticed a shrinking of democratic area, decimation of the opposition, gagging of the press and a normal tradition of concern,” he mentioned.
For Riaz, the opposite cause is Bangladesh’s historical past of anti-incumbency.
“Bangladesh has by no means seen a state of affairs the place the incumbent has returned to energy, besides in 2014, which was anyway not a participatory election [because of the BNP boycott],” he mentioned.
“Subsequently, Bangladeshis must resolve whether or not they need to see change or continuity.”
Will the election be free and truthful?
That is going to be the most important query on the minds of over 100 million voters till Sunday.
The BNP claims half of the opposition’s 300 candidates have been attacked whereas campaigning, whereas greater than 11,500 of its members, together with over a dozen contenders, have been detained up to now month.
Authorities final week blocked the BNP’s web site, claiming it contained “indecent” and “obscene” materials. Even its Fb web page was down for days.
Violent marketing campaign clashes have claimed not less than six lives to date – 4 BNP supporters and two from the Awami League.
Riaz mentioned he’s “critically fearful and deeply involved” that there shall be a “free, truthful, credible and acceptable elections” in Bangladesh.
“Even the election fee is popping a blind eye,” he informed Al Jazeera.
The opposition alliance even demanded the resignation of chief election commissioner Ok M Nurul Huda, accusing him of bias.
However the ruling AL has rejected allegations of intimidating the opposition, blaming the BNP as an alternative of finishing up vandalism to delegitimise the vote.
“Their technique of boycotting the 2014 election failed. So that they modified their technique and are actually elevating pointless and illogical allegations in opposition to the administration and the election fee,” AL’s Mahbubul Alam Hanif informed Al Jazeera.
Bangladeshis must resolve whether or not they need to see change or continuity.
Ali Riaz, Illinois State College
Amid worldwide concern over the occasions up to now weeks, UN Secretary-Basic Antonio Guterres has requested “all stakeholders to make sure an atmosphere freed from violence, intimidation and coercion earlier than, throughout and after the elections”.
The US referred to as off an observer mission it was financing due to delays in issuing visas, whereas Human Rights Watch mentioned the election was being performed in a “repressive political atmosphere”.
|Bangladesh by no means noticed the incumbent authorities return to energy, besides in 2014 [Al Jazeera]|
What are the primary points?
There are 4 main points deciding the contentious election: the nation’s financial system, Hasina’s alleged authoritarianism, the gag on media freedom, and 1971 conflict crimes.
Regardless of allegations of an authoritarian regime, Hasina succeeded in making notable financial progress throughout her tenure.
Estimates counsel that on the present price of almost eight % development, Bangladesh would cross the per capita revenue of its extra highly effective neighbour, India, by 2020, and is predicted to show right into a middle-income financial system by 2024.
Export of ready-made clothes constitutes almost 82 % of the nation’s financial system, with the output in 2017 slated at over $28bn.
In its election manifesto, the ruling AL has vowed to extend Bangladesh’s gross home product to 9 % from the 7.eight % reported in 2017-18.
The opposition Jatiya Oikya Entrance, however, has promised to boost the minimal wage of garment employees, freeze fuel and electrical energy costs, and provides the central financial institution extra autonomy.
“Sure, Bangladesh has succeeded by way of its financial development, however there are spots and blemishes in that file. Disparity has elevated, banking sector is in shambles,” Riaz informed Al Jazeera.
‘Authoritarianism’ and assault on rivals
Observers say Bangladesh underneath Hasina was a de-facto one-party state, the place the ruling social gathering has usurped the constitutional rights of its opponents and customary residents.
Hasina’s regime noticed a close to decimation of the opposition, together with her chief political rival, Khaleda Zia, sentenced to 10 years in jail for corruption and banned from contesting the election.
Zia faces greater than 30 different prices, together with sedition, which her social gathering has denounced as politically motivated.
Lately, former chief justice Surendra Kumar Sinha – the primary Hindu to carry the put up – wrote in his memoir, A Damaged Dream: Rule of Regulation, Human Rights and Democracy, that the nation was underneath an “autocratic authorities”.
A rattled opposition, in its ballot manifesto, has promised adjustments within the regulation that may restrict an individual from holding the prime minister’s put up for greater than two phrases. It has additionally vowed to reform the judiciary.
“Jatiya Oikya Entrance has dedicated to make adjustments equivalent to balancing the facility between the president and the prime minister,” mentioned Riaz.
Gag on media freedom
Bangladesh is ranked 146 out of 180 international locations in media freedom, in accordance with Reporters With out Borders (RSF).
In response to RSF, not less than 25 journalists and a number of other hundred bloggers and Fb customers have been prosecuted in 2017 underneath the Info and Communication Expertise (ICT) Act – a broad regulation in opposition to any digital communication that “tends to corrupt or corrupt” the picture of the state.
Final month, award-winning photographer and activist Shahidul Alam was launched on bail after spending 107 days behind bars underneath the ICT Act.
Earlier this month, Alam was named by Time journal as one among a gaggle of journalists, together with slain dissident Jamal Khashoggi, because the Particular person of the Yr for 2018.
The draconian Digital Safety Act (DSA) additional unfold a local weather of concern for penalising acquiring papers, info or footage from authorities places of work with out official consent.
The BNP has promised to scrap the controversial regulation.
1971 conflict crimes
The conflict of independence with Pakistan stays Bangladesh’s most divisive political difficulty.
Since coming to energy in 2009, Hasina used the feelings surrounding the 1971 conflict to justify her transfer in direction of an authoritarian rule.
The Awami League initiatives itself because the social gathering of liberation, portray the opposition – primarily the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami, which was banned in 2013 – as “pro-Pakistan” and due to this fact, harmful and disloyal.
A global crimes tribunal arrange by Hasina in 2010 sentenced dozens of top Jamaat and BNP leaders to loss of life and jail on prices of genocide and crimes in opposition to humanity.
Riaz thinks the Jamaat “must reinvent itself” and take accountability for its function in 1971. “They need to have carried out it very long time in the past. It’s lengthy overdue,” he mentioned.
Regardless of a ban, many leaders of the Jamaat are contesting Sunday’s elections in alliance with the BNP.
– With inputs from companies
|Whereas Hasina banks on financial development, the opposition accuses her of silencing dissent [Al Jazeera]|