The Fix Is In
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The prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, recently launched her ruling Awami League party’s campaign for the South Asian country’s general election on Jan. 7.
Speaking at a massive rally in the eastern city of Sylhet, reported the Associated Press, Hasina blamed the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its leader, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, for sabotaging a passenger train and causing a fire that killed four people just a few days before.
“They thought that with some incidents of arson the government will fall,” Hasina told her supporters. “It’s not that easy. Where do they get such courage? A black sheep sitting in London gives orders and some people are here to play with fire. … Their hands will be burned in that fire.”
Hasina was referring to Zia’s son, Tarique Rahman, who was sentenced to jail on corruption charges but has escaped prison by living in exile in the United Kingdom since 2008, explained Reuters.
Rahman and his allies in the Bangladesh Nationalist Party have a decidedly different perspective on the elections. Hasina won’t allow anyone but her party to win office, they say. Ballot-box stuffing and other meddling, they allege, were rampant in previous elections. They have therefore opted to boycott the vote this time around, Al Jazeera wrote.
“The predetermined upcoming election is non-participatory not just for the political parties, but for the voters as well,” Rahman told the Diplomat.
The oldest daughter of Bangladesh’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Hasina has overseen crackdowns on human rights, freedom of the press, dissidents, opposition activities, and anti-government demonstrators during her four terms in office. Police arrested 8,000 opposition figures in a nationwide crackdown in early November, for example, after major rallies. As Agence France Presse reported, this dragnet was likely orchestrated to undermine the Bangladesh Nationalist Party before Jan. 7.
These developments are important because Bangladesh – a major textile exporter – is a huge, low-income country that needs able leadership to grow sustainably. As the Dhaka Tribune noted, nearly 120 million people will be eligible to cast ballots in this election.
The tension between Hasina and her detractors reflects how Bangladesh is at a tipping point. As the Atlantic Council said, Hasina enjoys the support of the military and has won “seriously flawed” elections. She is also arguably dragging the country into an autocracy that won’t be good for its people.
The US, for example, has already slapped visa restrictions on Bangladeshi individuals who are allegedly undermining democracy in the country, and imposed sanctions on the Rapid Action Battalion, a paramilitary force accused of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and other serious human rights violations, reported Nikkei Asia.
Hasina will likely win the elections. But governing will become increasingly hard.