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Friday, May 25, 2012

[ALOCHONA] Hello Delhi: It is up to India to stop Sheikh Hasina ruining Bangladesh

Bangladesh's toxic politics

Hello, Delhi: It is up to India to try to stop Sheikh Hasina ruining Bangladesh

THE Punch-and-Judy show of Bangladeshi politics, in which the ruling
party—run by the daughter of a former president—bashes the
opposition—run by the widow of a former president—before swapping
places with it, has been running for decades. The outside world rarely
pays attention because nothing seems to change.

Recently, though, the squabbling has turned into a crisis (see
article) which threatens to make life still worse for the 170m poor
Muslims who suffer under one of the world's worst governments. Since
Bangladesh's political leaders show no interest in their fate,
outsiders need to do so.

When Sheikh Hasina, leader of the Awami League and current prime
minister, and Khaleda Zia, leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party
(BNP), alternated in power in the 1990s, things were pretty bad, but
in the past decade they have got worse. The administration Mrs Zia
headed from 2001 to 2006 was a brutal kleptocracy. It was followed by
army-backed unelected technocrats. Then in 2008 the Awami League swept
to power in a landslide victory. The League has 229 of 300
parliamentary seats compared with 31 for Mrs Zia's BNP. Sheikh Hasina
has used this mandate to consolidate power and hound her enemies, real
and imagined.

There has been a spate of mysterious disappearances. This month 33
senior members of the opposition were arrested on charges of vandalism
and arson. A war-crimes tribunal to investigate the atrocities in
Bangladesh's war of independence in 1971—some of the bloodiest in
modern history—now looks like an attempt to discredit the BNP and its
Islamist allies. And the hounding of Mohammad Yunus, a pioneer of
microfinance, creator of the Grameen Bank and a Nobel laureate, is
seen as payback for his temerity in 2007 in trying to launch a "third
force" in politics. Meanwhile, journalists and activists face
intimidation and worse, and the vibrant NGOs that keep the spirit of
democracy alive worry that proposed legislation would leave them at
the mercy of government whims.

Last year the League did away with the provision that caretaker
administrations should oversee elections. The arrangement was not
ideal. In January 2007 protests led by the League, convinced that the
BNP would rig an election, led to a coup. But without some assurance
of fair play the BNP will boycott the next election, due in 2014. So
there is the prospect of yet more protests, which in Bangladesh often
take the form of crippling strikes. There is also the real prospect of
utter political paralysis, risking even worse turmoil on the streets.

The only voice in Dhaka

The outside world is trying to do its bit. The World Bank has scrapped
a deal to pay for a big bridge because of its suspicions of
corruption. EU ambassadors have denounced the treatment of Mr Yunus
and the harassment of activists. Hillary Clinton flew to Dhaka this
month to stand by Mr Yunus.

But the government seems unmoved. In a snub to Mrs Clinton, it
announced a review into ownership of Grameen, a move to take over (and
probably destroy) the bank. The only country to have much influence in
Dhaka is India. Until recently the regional superpower tolerated
Sheikh Hasina's excesses, in part because Bangladesh has cracked down
on Islamists. India now seems to be hedging its bets between the two
parties. But if it still wants to have a functioning democracy next
door, it needs to speak out far louder in favour of it.



[Disclaimer: ALOCHONA Management is not liable for information contained in this message. The author takes full responsibility.]
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