05/13/2008, 00.00
BANGLADESH

Doubts remain in Dhaka over elections under a state or emergency

Nozrul Islam
After postponing elections for more than a year, the provisional government announces elections for the third week of December. But the announcement does not mention whether after 16 months the state of emergency will be lifted or not. Discussions with the main parties are bound to be difficult.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – After being postponed several times in the last year and half, Bangladesh’s long-awaited elections are set to take place on the third week of December. This should end the rule by the military-backed provisional government that took over 16 months ago imposing a state of emergency. Many experts remain doubtful however about what might actually happen. The government’s Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed made the announcement himself.

Elections were originally scheduled for January 2007 but were postponed after weeks of violence in which at least 30 people died and hundreds were wounded  Since then, the country has been administered by Ahmed’ government with military backing.

In his address broadcast on TV and radio, Mr Ahmed said that the government was committed to creating an environment that was congenial to campaigning. But many analysts are sceptical, wondering how elections can be held under a state of emergency.

Ahmed did announce that the ban on “indoor politics” was lifted, setting 22 May as the start for a dialogue with political parties over organising the elections.

Public meetings and demonstrations remain however illegal and the chief adviser has not set any date for lifting the state of emergency.

Indeed although the military-backed government pledged a return to democracy within 2008 it is hard to say whether it will actually concede power to an elected government.

Its policy of dismantling and rebuilding the country’s two dominant political parties has not worked. The leader of the Awami League, Sheikh Hasina, and that of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, Khaleda Zia, both jailed on corruption charges, have still important followings. By contrast, the provisional government is losing public support because of the shadow cast by the army and by runaway prices.

Ahmed remains confident though that dialogue with the parties, presently at an impasse, will prove worthwhile.

It still faces a uphill struggle because the Awami League announced that it will not recognise the elections if its leader, Hasina, is not freed. Concurrently the BNP is faced with deep divisions caused by Khaleda Zia’s absence. 

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