People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 02

January 12, 2014



Bangladesh: Challenge

Before Third Hasina Govt


Gautam Das


DESPTE the hartal, blockade and boycott call by the BNP-Jama’at-e-Islami combine and the sporadic violence, the people of Bangladesh cast their vote to elect the tenth parliament on January 5. Before the polling started, armed cadres of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jama’at-e-Islami (JI) burnt down around 350 polling booths including schools, set afire ballot boxes with ballot papers, killed one presiding officer by hurling bombs, and cut the road links to prevent the movement of polling parties and security forces in some places. Police and the paramilitary forces had to resort to firing upon the attackers; 20 of them got killed. The supporters of the poll boycott call murdered one security personnel. Barring these incidents, however, the polling was by and large peaceful.




As 153 candidates of the ruling Awami League (AL) led 14-party alliance were elected unopposed in the 300-members parliament, elections were held in 147 constituencies only. Due to the refusal of the BNP, and the 18-party alliance it leads, to participate in the elections and due to their poll boycott call, continuous road blockades, hartals and widespread violence before the polling, the voters’ turnout was low, to which the heavy fog on the polling day also contributed.


According to the country’s Election Commission, on an average 40 percent voters used their democratic rights. As per the statistics available with the Election Commission for 139 constituencies where elections held on January 5, 1,65,30,775 voters cast valid votes whereas the total voter strength was 4,15,21,325. More than 2.50 lakh votes were rejected during counting in those constituencies. The chief election commissioner, Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmed, told the press that the polling percentage was low as main opposition political party and some other parties did not participate in the elections, and also due to inclement weather. But, he said, there was no report of irregularities.


The SAARC poll observers, those from some foreign organisations and local poll observers, who went around different polling centres, said that in many polling booths they found voters, both men and women, standing in queue and casting their votes peacefully. In some polling booths the number of voters was very negligible, they said. But they emphatically stated that there were no irregularities in the polling process. The Election Commission suspended polling in around 350 polling booths spread over eight parliamentary constituencies due to burning of polling booths and ballot papers. Repoll will be held in those polling booths on January 16 next, an Election Commission spokesman said.


As per the election conduct rules of Bangladesh, counting of votes was taken up immediately after closure of the polling process in the polling centres itself. As per unofficial results declared by the Election Commission, out of the 139 constituencies Awami League won 104 seats, Jatiya Party of H M Ershad got 13, Workers Party bagged four and independents and others got 18 seats. Thus the ruling Awami League has won altogether 232 seats including the 128 seats where its candidates were elected unopposed. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina got elected from both the constituencies she contested. The Workers’ Party of Bangladesh increased its seats from two to six. (In two constituencies, their candidates including party president Rasheed Khan Menon had got elected unopposed.) The Workers’ Party had seat adjustment with the Awami League in four constituencies. It also contested in 12 other constituencies where two of its candidates got elected.




On January 6 evening, in her first press conference after the tenth parliamentary election, prime minister Sheikh Hasina again urged the BNP president Begum Khaleda Zia to come forward for dialogue and give up the undemocratic and violent agitation which is only creating untold miseries for the common man. She also put forth the condition that the BNP would have to sever its relationship with the Jama’at-e-Islami which is responsible for mass killing of hundreds of citizens of Bangladesh during its liberation struggle in 1971 and also for committing rape and gang rape of innumerable women.


On this occasion, Hasina also expressed satisfaction over the turnout of voters in the election and said that the people had cast their vote and rejected the poll boycott call of Khaleda Zia while braving the hartal, blockade, murder and other violent activities. She told the national and foreign media that the first priority of her new government would be to protect the life and property of her countrymen and to protect the government properties. She said the ongoing process of trial of war criminals would continue and that corruption would be dealt with firmly.


Sheikh Hasina also reminded that she had requested the BNP president Begum Khaleda Zia to come forward for dialogue and to participate in the election to strengthen the democracy but that she had refused to have a dialogue and did not participate in the elections. In reply to a question, she said her government was swimming against the current and would continue to do so in future for an all round progress of the country. She also said that there were outside pressures but that she did not bow her head. In reply to another question she said that the door would always be open for the opposition. She informed that she would request the allied parties to join the new ministry.


Meanwhile, the BNP and its alliance partners are in no mood to give up confrontation and again called for a 48-hour general strike and indefinite blockade immediately after the end of the polling. On January 6, seven more people were killed in different parts of Bangladesh.




As for the BNP, it is being run from two centres. On January 6, party chairperson Khaleda Zia issued a press statement from her Dhaka residence, claiming that the people had rejected the poll process. She asked the government to cancel the election results and open dialogue for a fresh election under a neutral government. On the other hand, Tarek Rahaman, eldest son of Khaleda Zia, held a press conference in London the same day, saying that the present government was not a valid government and that his party would not sit for dialogue with this government and continue the movement against it. Earlier, on January 4, in another press conference held in London, Tarek Rahaman had alleged that the Hasina government was going into the election process at the dictate of a neighbouring country; which was a euphemism for India. It may be mentioned here that Tarek Rahaman was arrested in 2007, during the internal emergency, for allegedly transferring a huge sum of money to a foreign country; this money was acquired through bribery during her mother Khaleda Zia’s prime ministership. He got bail for treatment purpose and since then he has been living in the UK after giving an undertaking that he would not involve himself in political activities. Yet, he is controlling the party while sitting in London. Meanwhile, the anti-corruption commission of Bangladesh has succeeded in bringing back a part of the amount smuggled to Singapore by Tarek Rahaman. Khaleda Zia had appointed her son as senior vice president of the party.


After the counting of votes, the Jama’at and its student wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir, attacked the religious minorities in Satkhira, Jessore and Dinazpur districts and burnt and looted several houses. The minority committee members had to therefore to run away in order save their lives. In Satkhira, newly elected parliament member of the Workers Party rushed to the spot along with party workers and confronted the attackers. It was alleged that the police arrived quite late.


Some prominent intellectuals, including former Bangladesh Central Bank governor Farasuddin, said that to conduct the elections on January 5 was a correct decision; otherwise, the Jama’at-e-Islami would have sought to grab state power by creating a constitutional crisis. He opined: if the main two political parties agree and come to an understanding, fresh elections may be held with the participation of all political parties within the next 18 to 24 months.


Maintenance of law and order, and restoration of peace and normality, is at present the main challenge before the third Sheikh Hasina government which is to take oath of office very soon.