- Feb 3, 2015
Under strain, govt may go for inclusive polls
No scope to go to power with foreigners’ favour: PM
There is no scope for the BNP to go to power with the support of foreigners now, said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday.
Partha Pratim Bhattacharjee, Porimol Palma
Thu Feb 23, 2023 07:00 AM Last update on: Thu Feb 23, 2023 07:00 AM
Feeling the pressure from the West for fair and participatory polls and the economic stress at home, the government may go all out to get the BNP and like-minded parties to participate in the next national election.
Even though the Awami League decided to dominate the streets and have counter programmes for the BNP's agitations, it is considering behind-the-scene talks with the opposition party to ensure the latter's participation in the polls, ruling party sources said.
The AL will take an initiative to bring the BNP to the table sometime in April, added the sources.
In recent months, the West, especially the US, the UK, the European Union, and Japan, made critical remarks about the 2018 national polls and pressed for fair and inclusive polls.
They spoke about alleged widespread irregularities during the polls in which the AL-led grand alliance won by a landslide.
The AL's softer tone when talking about the opposition became apparent after Law Minister Anisul Huq last Sunday said there was no legal bar preventing BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia from engaging in politics.
He said the government did not impose such conditions when it suspended her sentence.
Khaleda, a three-time prime minister, was convicted and imprisoned in a corruption case in 2018. She was released in March 2020 with an executive order and with the condition that she would not leave the country and must receive medical treatment in the country.
Until recently, the AL had been using strong words when it came to Khaleda's and her son Tarique Rahman's return to politics.
Tarique, acting chairman of the BNP, is convicted in the August 21, 2004, grenade attack case. The attack was on an AL rally on Bangabandhu Avenue. At least 24 people were killed and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was injured among others.
AL leaders regularly branded BNP-Jamaat as the mastermind of the arson attacks in 2013 and made suggestions that the BNP-Jamaat do not have the right to be in politics.
The AL policy and tone now appear to have changed.
After the law minister, AL General Secretary Obaidul Quader said if the BNP chief wants to get involved in politics, she must follow the conditions of her release.
Agriculture Minister and AL Presidium Member Abdur Razzaque yesterday echoed him and said Khaleda can run her party and direct party activists even from jail.
However, all three ministers have said that she cannot run for office.
The BNP, meanwhile, said ministers' comments were an attempt to weaken its movement. The party said it would not sit for any dialogue unless it was about a polls-time caretaker government.
It maintains fair elections under the current administration are not possible.
"The government will come up with more such comments in the future. We all have to be very careful while reacting to them," a senior BNP leader said after a BNP standing committee meeting on Tuesday.
When asked, AL Presidium Member Kazi Zafarullah told The Daily Star that dialogues are essential in democratic and political processes. When and how the dialogues will be held are determined by time and situation, he said.
Zafarullah said the AL wants an election in which all political parties will take part. One party cannot hold a dialogue. "You need the other party. If the Awami League initiates a dialogue, the BNP also has to come forward."
WHY AL FACES PRESSURE
The AL government is facing more pressure for holding fair and inclusive polls from the West not only because of the West's stance on the previous two polls but also because of Bangladesh's increasing dependency on western markets and funding, political and diplomatic analysts said.
The government has been under pressure after the US slapped sanctions on the Rab and seven of its officials in 2021, and did not invite Bangladesh to its democracy summit that year.
Meanwhile, the economy started to take a hit due to the fallout of the Russia-Ukraine war as well as weak financial management at home, they said.
Bangladesh is taking out a loan from the IMF, in which western influence is strong.
The US became Bangladesh's top remittance-sending country in the last two quarters taking the crown from Saudi Arabia.
"The US is also Bangladesh's largest single RMG buyer, foreign direct investor, and donor for the Rohingyas," said a diplomatic source.
Recently, the Office of the US Trade Representative started reviewing Intellectual Property Rights issues in Bangladesh's RMG sector after the American Apparel and Footwear Association and French Union des Fabricants raised complaints that Bangladesh and some other countries were exporting counterfeits of name brands.
If the allegations are proved, Bangladesh's garment industry may face additional tariffs, quotas or even sanctions by the US.
The diplomatic source said the European Union, the largest regional bloc in terms of importing from Bangladesh, usually follows the US.
This means, Bangladesh may face a huge challenge if RMG exports, the major foreign currency earner, decline.
"True, western countries are vocal about democracy, human rights, and media freedom. The diplomats have been talking about these for a year or more. The ruling party did not appear to pay much heed to that," said a high-ranking official at an embassy in Dhaka.
"Now, Bangladesh is heavily dependent on the West, especially given the foreign currency reserve crisis.
"So, the government has fewer tools while bargaining with the western powers."
WESTERN MESSAGE CLEAR
Even Japan raised concerns about Bangladesh's elections. Former Japanese ambassador to Dhaka Ito Naoki in November expressed concerns over election irregularities in 2018.
Over the last few months, foreign diplomats have held meetings with political parties.
On February 16, a European Union delegation with seven diplomats of member states held a meeting with AL General Secretary Obaidul Quader and some AL leaders.
"They want all parties, including the BNP, to join the next polls," Quader told reporters after the meeting. He reiterated the prime minister's commitment to holding a free, fair and credible election.
Diplomatic sources said there would be more such meetings with political parties in the coming months. The diplomats will also make it clear that they do not want any violence centring the polls.
Even though Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra at his recent meeting with PM Hasina said that his country totally supports her leadership, but it is also for fair and inclusive polls in Bangladesh, a source in an embassy said, adding that India wants a vibrant Sangsad.
Former foreign secretary Touhid Hossain said there is no doubt that the western powers want fair and inclusive polls in Bangladesh because it is their policy and that the last two elections were controversial. Because of the economic condition, the government also feels indirect pressure.
"How much the ruling party will bow to this pressure is yet to be known," he told this paper.