Nov 22
Relatively Calm Environment In Politics May Not Persist For A Long? PDF Print E-mail

By Zafar Malik

Beleaguered BNP is getting momentum, and gradually appearing in the limelight of the pre-election politics. The party’s bogged down activists are now reenergizing and showing up from virtual hibernation since their leader—Khaleda Zia—returned home from three months’ medical treatment in London. She flew in Dhaka on October 18 belying all speculations in political circle. After a brief rest for 10 days in Dhaka, she took a road drive to see the persecuted Rohingya people in Cox’s Bazar. On both the occasions, BNP activists put up a good show on the streets, drawing public attention and raising new calculations in the election-politics.

 

Political commentators say BNP now looks spirited but eschews confrontational path despite some provocations, particularly during their party chief’s Dhaka-Cox’s Bazar roadway travel to reach Rohingya refugee camps where Khaleda Zia distributed relief goods among the victims. Her motorcade and journalists’ cars were attacked at multiple places in Feni and Chittagong on October 28. During her return journey too, violence occurred, two parked buses were burned down near her passing motorcade in Feni. BNP leaders blamed Awami League goons for these disruptive acts and referred to media reports to substantiate their allegations though Awami League dubbed it as outburst of BNP’s intraparty squabbling. Police looks reluctant to identify and nab the real culprits after investigation. In view of the attacks on Khaleda’s motorcade, many thought BNP would go for violent agitation to protest the attacks but in reality the party restrained itself and observed low-profile demonstration in Dhaka and outside.

The commentators say Khaleda’s visit to BNP’s stronghold Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar after long five years, created waves among BNP mid-level and grassroots workers and followers. Many viewed Khaleda’s Dhaka-Cox’s Bazar road journey a kind of electioneering. Awami League did not like it as some leaders openly remarked why she chose the roadway instead of airways. They alleged the BNP chief wanted to create chaos in the name of giving relief to Rohingyas. BNP leadership, however, is happy seeing what they call a surge in favour of their party.

Observers say after returning from London, Khaleda Zia is moving ahead slowly but steadily to achieve her pre-election agenda—installation of a non-partisan authority—to supervise the next parliamentary elections. To reach her cherished destination she is mobilizing her party as well as creating a kind of public surge for a fair and acceptable election. As a strategy she does not want to spend out the energy of her party men by engaging them into street agitation that may invite fresh trouble in the form of new arrests and cases. Pursuing a restrained strategy, the party also did not bargain much with the administration to get permission for holding a public meeting at Suhrawardy Udyan on November 8 and mass gathering to offer prayer at the grave of BNP founder late President Ziaur Rahman marking the  7th  November. The police did not allow such gathering at the Zia’s graveyard due to Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s conference. The party has now shifted its meeting date from Nov 8 to Nov 12 to be held at Suhrawardy Uddayan. Khaleda is expected to address the rally after a long break.

 

BNP has been telling people that Khaleda Zia would roll out the formula of so-called ‘supportive government’ on her return from London. Now it seems she might take time to unveil her formula when the election would come closer. Party insiders say after Dhaka-Chittagong-Cox’s Bazar ‘successful’ road journey, BNP strategists are now thinking more such public campaigns to whip up people’s sentiment in support of her demand for a fair and impartial election under a non-partisan administration without Awami League in power.

 

To push forward her demand, the BNP chairperson seizes every opportunity to hold meetings with foreign dignitaries who are coming to Bangladesh to see the plight of Rohingyas who are fleeing the atrocities by the Myanmar military in Rakhine state and took shelter in Bangladesh. Recently, she met with US undersecretary for political affairs Thomas Shannon, a Canadian parliament delegation and earlier with Indian external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. During the meetings she underscored the need for an impartial election which she thinks is only possible under a non-party administration. Though the foreign dignitaries keep mum on her theory of a ‘supportive government’, all felt the necessity for holding an inclusive and impartial election for ensuring democracy and sustainable development of Bangladesh.

 

The next parliamentary election will be held towards the end of 2018. Indications are there that all major political parties including BNP will participate in the elections. Some commentators say political scenario may take a different turn and BNP may change its position if trial court convicts her in two corruption cases, which may prevent her from contesting in the coming election. In that case BNP would obviously go to higher court to appeal the trial court verdict but the situation by that time might be politically complicated and volatile. There is a speculation in the political circle that a split might be created within BNP over the participation in the election. A doubt and fear is lurking within the party about some senior BNP leaders’ possible entente with the government. It was reported multiple times that those leaders would join the election under the present government if Khaleda Zia gets convicted in the corruption cases. BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir recently said the government is trying to finish off the cases hurriedly in a bid to convict her and declare her unfit for the elections.

Therefore, political commentators say present relatively calm environment in domestic politics might not persist for a long time unless there is understanding between the two major parties.

 

The commentators say Bangladesh at this point in time is beset with a big challenge posed by persecuted tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who took shelter in Cox’s Bazar. This huge number of displaced Myanmar nationals has created additional burden on the country’s economy, environment and security. Although the global leadership is patting Bangladesh with rote praises for hosting these so many distressed people, condemning the Myanmar government for the crackdown on the Rohingya minority Muslims as ethnic cleansing and demanding their early repatriation but there is no credible sign to end the crisis shortly. The global superpowers got involved into the issue and took different positions from their own national interests. The USA and the European Union took strategic positions supporting the cause of the Rohingya and imposed some targeted sanctions against some top military officers of Myanmar but at the same time they are willing to give some space to Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi who shares power with the military. It is quite clear that the USA does not want to re-impose tougher economic sanction which was withdrawn by the past Obama administration in 2015 with the transition of democratic process in Myanmar. The Trump administration too wants to maintain a relation with the Suu Kyi’s civilian government and firmly establish its presence in that country to counter the dominance of China that firmly stands beside the Myanmar regime for her economic and military interests. Consequently, the UN Security Council could not take any resolution against Myanmar due to opposition from China. Russia and India are also quietly supporting Myanmar for their own economic interest. Ultimately Bangladesh that gave shelter to the Rohingya on humanitarian ground will have to bear the burden for uncertain time if the crisis is not settled immediately. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who is acclaimed by world leaders for her generality and magnanimity for giving shelter to the Rohingya people has urged the international community including the commonwealth countries to put pressure on the Myanmar government to repatriate its nationals immediately as it would be difficult for Bangladesh to carry on such burden for a long time. Donor countries in Geneva mobilized $335 million for humanitarian assistance to the displaced Rohnigya for six months till February 2018. It is difficult to predict to put an end to the crisis by this time.

 

The commentators say Bangladesh is already beset with her so many domestic issues including a crucial challenge for holding a free and fair election. The government would require hectic negotiations with key players to reach a consensus on the modality of the election-time government. Moreover, the government will have to focus on completing major development projects before the election to woo the voters.  Analyzing the situation, many commentators apprehend a chaos into chaos which could be hard to handle if the two major parties fail to come to an understanding and find out common ground on pressing national issues including the forthcoming election.