Bangladeshi Political Trends - Turmoil Before Order?
The elections in Bangladesh are likely to be highly contentious given intense polarization between the ruling, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Awami League (AL). The impasse over appointment of retired Chief Justice K M Hasan who had been a member of the BNP as the head of the interim government which would oversee the elections was broken and a constitutional crisis averted when the President Iajuddin Ahmed assumed the reins of the care taker government.
The initial directions of the care taker administration have appeased the principal opposition party, the Awami League. The President is reported to have transferred 27 senior bureaucrats and terminated services of Mr Kamal Uddin Siddiqui, principal secretary, a staunch BNP supporter who had been given extension a number of times by the previous government. The services of a number of key functionaries who had been on contract have also been terminated. The Chief Election Commissioner M A Aziz and his three deputies are also reported to be having links with the ruling party by the opposition. Some sources even link these functionaries with Islamist parties and the ubiquitous ISI.
Of late there have been a number of leaders who have broken away from the ruling BNP accusing it of corruption and links with the Islamic organizations including militants. The formation of the Liberal Democratic Party under Dr Badrudzoha and joined by Col Oli Ahmad a key personality from Chittagong is said to be a major set back for the BNP. (IE Report, 28 October 2006). The 14 party opposition alliance has even taken to the streets many times during the past two months over these issues and there have also been reports of large scale political violence in the state which has seen the death of as many as 25 people.
The former ruling coalition is also likely to agitate to put pressure on the interim government. The trend is to project demands, hold negotiations for accession to the demands, give an ultimatum for action and take to the streets in case these demands are not met. Street politics and violence is likely to dominate the next few months. Supporters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party are likely to be more violent as it has the backing of the principal Islamic parties who are suspected to have some links with terrorist organizations in the state. Preliminary reports also indicate that the BNP is likely to lose its majority, thus it would prefer to vitiate the atmosphere leading to continued rule by the interim government. Some intelligence reports indicated that the BNP had even requested the Army at one stage to take over reins of the country, which has reportedly refused the offer.
Bangladesh is likely to see political uncertainty over a period of next one year till an acceptable government takes up its charter and starts functioning smoothly. This period of flux could also be exploited by the Islamic parties linked with militants to cause disruption in the election process. The Army had geared itself for such an eventuality earlier and should demonstrate resoluteness as well as restraint to achieve its purpose of maintaining order. The success in apprehension and successful charge sheeting of the militants involved in the blasts last year including Bangla Bhai and other influential terrorists needs to be followed up to ensure that peace is retained during the next year or so. If reports of Army's refusal of assumption of power on offer by the BNP are true, it is likely to remain neutral. However the Islamists are not likely to favor the AL in power and may undertake disruptive activities to prevent such a happening.
Possible Scenarios that could emerge in Bangladesh over the next year or so are as follows:-
Scenario 1: Chaos theory entailing break down of law and order, lack of political as well as administrative governance in the state. This is a possibility but not considered likely as the state has adequate mechanisms to control the confusion. One facet which may emerge is imposition of martial law and the army taking over the state in a coup. The Bangladesh Army is not considered favorably disposed towards such an option.
Scenario 2: BNP regains power in concert with the Islamic parties. This will provide further impetus to Islamisation of the state and the militant organizations are likely to be bolstered. This will be damaging to India as the government would be taking a potently anti India stance in such a case.
Scenario 3: AL and parties such as the Liberal Democratic Party come to power in a coalition. This will be the ideal situation for India and will be a considerable blow to the Islamic forces in the state. These are likely to create problems and the state will have to move with extreme caution both in maintaining law and order and economic prudence as corruption and misgovernance will be invariably exploited by the opponents.
Scenario 4: In case no clear alliance emerges as a winner Bangla polity is not considered mature enough to function smoothly as an effective coalition particularly if all its constituents are weak. This will imply extensive horse trading, even elimination of leaders who are seen to be the key to any alliance and will be a dangerous situation which should be watched with extreme caution.