A fight where the enemy is not even a shadow

Published : Dec 27, 2018 18:20 IST

In Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar

Everywhere you look in Bangladesh, it appears as if there is only one party contesting the December 30 national election—the ruling Awami League (A.L.). Posters, banners, buntings, and other merchandise of the party can be seen in almost all parts of the capital, Dhaka, and even in the remote Cox’s Bazar, which boasts of Asia’s longest beach though it is now known for hosting over a million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.

The A.L. has been in power for a decade and in that time has done what the main opposition party, the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), did when it was in power—a systematic capture of all the institutions of democracy. It is a telling reflection of the extent of the AL-isation of the institutions and power structures in the country that Vice Chancellors of leading universities went on a rally on December 24 calling upon people to vote for the AL. A journalist participating in the rally claimed that the election expenses of the BNP alliance, the Jatiya Oikya front, now being spearheaded by a person who is widely respected, is being underwritten by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

This is not merely an allegation, insist two highly placed sources in Dhaka. But some in Bangladeshi civil society contradict this. Asked if the BNP took money from the ISI or other Pakistani elements, one respected member of civil society said an emphatic “No”. This suspicion of a Pakistani hand is not an insignificant problem in Bangladesh polity because such suspicion will be taken seriously by the regional superpower with significant clout in the country, India.

The A.L.’s rallies and campaigns have concentrated on the atrocities of the BNP when it was in power. All A.L. leaders, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, do not lose a chance to remind voters of the BNP’s acts of omission and commission. True, as an opposition party the BNP has played truant and, when in power, was extremely reluctant to call for elections or hand over power voluntarily.

Politics in Bangladesh is a show of strength and, more often than not, it is the pitched battles fought on the streets that decide the fate of a candidate, election after election at every level of governance. This time around, the A.L. holds all the aces, and there is no prize for guessing who the winner of the December 30 election will be.

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