07/09/2013, 00.00
BANGLADESH
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Islamist party gains on the coattails of Bangladesh Nationalist Party's victory

by Nozrul Islam
The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party sweeps the latest municipal elections thanks to the support of the Jamaat-e-Islami, whose anti-atheist propaganda against the ruling Awami League proves crucial.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) - The latest municipal elections in Bangladesh marks a turning point in the country's politics. The Awami League (AL) lost everywhere: in Sylhet, Barisal, Rajshahi, Khulna and Gazipur. Candidates running for the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) won in every city where elections were held, taking control from the ruling secular-oriented AL.

Two factors explain THE shift. On the one hand, corruption is rampant within the Al; on the other, religion has been used for political ends. It is unclear though, which played the greater role.

For many commentators, the ruling party's arrogance and thirst for power turned voters against it, beginning when it came to power by forcing out the caretaker government that is legally in power before elections.

Prime Minister and Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina has also been accused of corruption and of doing nothing about the heavy-handedness of her party's youth league.

Meanwhile, the BNP was backed by the Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamic opposition party. In recent months, the two parties have held numerous hartal (strikes) against rulings by local courts against members of the Islamist party involved in Bangladesh's War of independence.

Despite the violence often associated with protests, the latter boosted Jamaat's popularity.

In the campaign, the Islamist party accused the Awami League of atheism, and of being far from the interests of the population (Bangladesh is 89.9 per cent Muslim), allegations that found favour among the least educated. This favoured the BNP's victory in the municipal poll.

Uncertainty now hovers over the upcoming general election, scheduled either for the end of this year or the start of next.

(Sumon Corraya contributed to this article)

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