Country at a standstill a month from the elections
For months now tensions have been high in
The country’s Elections Commission, after wavering, set the next parliamentary elections for
Mr Iajuddin himself is ill, having recently undergone a heart operation, and allowed to work only three hours a day.
He is seen by many as a close ally of the outgoing ruling party, the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who has been accused of corruption and support for Islamic terrorism.
The tensions affecting the country are closely related to the January date for the elections. The Awami League said it would boycott the elections if its demands for changes to the Elections Commission are not met and more time is not give to the campaign.
How did we get to the current situation?
This system emerged in 1996 when the then-ruling BNP government was forced to resign and the opposition was able to impose a “neutral” government to prepare the elections. And it worked relatively problem free for two legislatures when well-known and respected figures were put in charge and avoided any favouritism as was the case in previous elections. However, the current outgoing government tried to go back to the old practices and stacked the cards in its favour.
Outgoing government’s moves
The Elections Commission appointed to prepare and run the elections was placed under the iron grip of a BNP loyalist, Judge M.A. Aziz. To counter opposition by two commission members, the government appointed two other people which gave Aziz a majority. This resulted in rigged voters’ lists which the High Court and then the Supreme Court ruled had to be drawn up again if the constitution were to be respected.
But the government two years ago raised the retirement age for constitutional judges expecting that the “neutral” caretaker government in 2006 would fall to K.M. Hasan, another BNP supporter. However, the opposition cried foul right away and announced it would accept not the changes.
In September and October more than 30 people died and thousands were hurt in clashes with police, often egged on by men from the ruling coalition, as protesters called for Aziz’s and Hasan’s removal.
With the possibility of an agreement between ruling and opposition parties dimming, Hasan bowed out.
In spite of opposition by constitutional experts, President Iajuddin decided he would take over the caretaker government. Now he is president, prime, foreign and defence minister. He is assisted by ten advisors appointed from other parties but after long drawn out negotiations.
The Awami League was taken by surprise, but was urged by personalities like recent Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nobel Yunus and especially Western governments, to hold Iajuddin to his words and see if he would organise “free and fair” elections.
The first move the opposition demanded was the removal of Aziz, the unpopular Election Commission chairman.
Iajuddin and his advisors sidestepped the issue by sending the chairman on a holiday. Under pressure from the Awami League they tried the same with other Commission members but failed.
Time for updating electoral lists is fast running out. The BNP points to the constitution, which says elections must be held within 90 days of the end of a legislature, and is against any delay.
The Awami League calls for their postponement also citing the constitution, which says elections must free and fair, but is in the meantime preparing to run in the elections as well as threatening to boycott them.
Protests by voters excluded from the voters’ lists are growing, especially when they find out that large groups, including whole villages, are not counted.
After a few days of pause, the 14-party Awami League coalition organised a mass rally in
The next day the ruling BNP-led coalition held a counter rally.
Today the latest general strike is underway, a possible lead up to the announcement by 16 parties that they would boycott the elections.