BD — on the path to authoritarianism
Mohammad Jamil


HASINA Wajed’s Awami League wins with thumping majority, as Bangladesh Opposition termed election held on farcical and demanded reelection. Contentious parliamentary elections were held on Sunday in Bangladesh, seen as a referendum on what critics call Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s increasingly authoritarian rule. Hasina’s main rival is former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, the leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, deemed ineligible by a court from running for office because she is behind the bars for corruption. The election campaign was marred by the arrests and jailing of what the opposition said thousands of Hasina’s opponents, including six candidates for Parliament. At least a dozen people were killed in campaign-related clashes. Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina considers being called authoritarian by the western media a “badge of honour”, the leader’s son told Reuters on the eve of a nationwide election on Sunday.

Hasina, who has a 3rd straight term in PM office, has been hailed domestically for rapid economic progress, and internationally for providing refuge to Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in neighbouring Myanmar. But her government has been accused of suppressing dissent and jailing critics, which includes many supporters of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Occasion (BNP). A lot of journalists say she has intimidated the media by applying vaguely worded laws. Hasina’s son Sajeeb Wajed told Reuters there was area for dissent in country with 165 million folks, and that the Western media was unfair in its portrayal of his mother. The BNP, which is battling this election as part of an alliance following boycotting the previous just one in 2014, claims that a more than 8,200 leaders and activists of the alliance have been arrested since the election program was announced last month.
The opposition claims that many have been killed and more than 12,300 wounded in a variety of assaults during election campaign. Wajed dismissed accusations that the ruling party manipulated police and the judiciary to get BNP chief and former key Minister Khaleda Zia jailed in February on corruption charges to weaken the opposition ahead of the election. Khaleda’s son and performing BNP chief Tarique Rahman, who lives in exile in London, faces imprisonment if he returns dwelling just after a court in October sentenced him to life in jail about an alleged plot to assassinate Hasina in 2004, when she was in the opposition. He always denied any such plot, and said that he had been framed to eliminate him from politics. It was not only BNP that suffered from the onslaught of Hasina’s government, Jama’at-e-Islami is the worst victim of the government.
There are many who dub Awami League as a fascist organization and hold it responsible for the genocide in Bangladesh. Prime Minister Hasina Wajed and Awami League have been meticulously trying to weaken or eliminate their opponents. In May 2016, head of the banned Jamaat-e-Islam Motiur Rahman Nizami was executed for so-called war crimes committed during, what they say, the 1971 war of independence, after the Supreme Court had rejected his final plea against a death sentence handed down by A Special Tribunal. Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, had said: “Nizami’s trial was neither free nor fair, as the tribunal cut corners on fair-trial standards.” Motiur Rahman Nizami was fifth senior official from opposition parties to have been executed since 2013 for alleged war crimes during the 1971 war. Five opposition politicians, including four Jamaat-i-Islami leaders, had been executed since late 2013 after convictions by Tribunal.
Sheikh Hasina continued with the policy of hatred and revenge against her opponents. Even before elections in 2013, more than 500 people were killed in political violence. Former ruler military dictator Hussein Muhammad Ershad, who led the country’s third largest party Jatiyo Party, a key ally of the Awami League grand alliance, had also boycotted the election. He was “detained” as part of the government’s efforts to force him to participate in the January 5 polls, but he remained firm in his decision of election boycott. Jama’at-e-Islami (JI) was already out of the field, as it was banned and not allowed to participate in the elections on the grounds that its religious character breaches Bangladesh’s secular constitution. Awami League and its leadership appear to have created an atmosphere of harassment for opposition parties, yet it had pressed hard to ensure participation of all political parties in the elections for the sake of legitimacy.
In February 2018, BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia was sentenced for 5 years on charges of corruption. Last month, Tarique Rahman, the fugitive son of former Bangladesh premier Khaleda Zia, was sentenced to life and 19 others were given death sentence by a court in Dhaka over the 2004 grenade attack that killed 24 people and injured 500 others. According to reports and investigations, the attack on an Awami League rally on August 21, 2004 targeted Hasina Wajed, who was the opposition leader at that time. Hasina survived the attack with partial hearing loss. Commenting on the verdict, BNP Secretary General Fakhrul Islam Alamgir had expressed the Party’s deep frustration saying “it was a politically motivated verdict and a naked expression of political vengeance”. However, Law Minister Anisul Huq said Tarique Rahman, the mastermind of the attack, deserved death sentence.