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Inside Story

Bangladesh elections: The 'battling begums'

As the opposition leader urges voters to boycott the upcoming polls, we ask how further unrest will impact the country.

Last updated: 04 Jan 2014 12:31
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Bangladesh heads to the polls on Sunday, but opposition parties are boycotting the vote after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina refused to make way for a neutral caretaker government which could have overseen the elections.

Questions are now being raised about the credibility of the vote. Without opposition participation, the ruling Awami League is guaranteed to win more than half of the 300 seats available.

"When it comes to economic policy, social policies or political decisions, there are not that many differences between these two political parties."

Dilara Choudhury, the author of 'Constitutional Development in Bangladesh: Stresses and Strains'

Supporters of the opposition have fought with security forces in Dhaka, and they continue to take to the streets, defying a police ban.

The leader of the opposition party has even called for a march to protest against what she calls a 'farcical election'.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said: We have tried our best to bring the BNP into the elections. She [Khaleda Zia] spurned my offer for dialogue and instead chose the path of confrontation. She has held the people to hostage in the name of strikes and blockades."

The two women and their deep political rivalry have cast a long shadow over Bangladeshi politics.

Prime Minister Hasina and her rival, the former prime minister Khaleda Zia, are both battling to be the country's next leader. They are heading the two most powerful parties - Hasina the Awami League, and Zia the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

They were not always political enemies. In 1990, they joined forces to bring down the dictatorial rule of Hussein Mohammed Ershad, but since then they have become bitter competitors since power has shifted between the two parties.

So is the power struggle driven by politics or personal hatred between two political leaders? Where does the increasing violence leave the rest of Bangladesh's 150 million people? And will the country manage to return to political stability?

Inside Story presenter David Foster is joined by guests: Dilara Choudhury, a professor at North South University and author of the book Constitutional Development in Bangladesh: Stresses and Strains; Kailash Budhwar, a South Asia analyst; and Imtiaz Ahmed, a professor of International relations at the University of Dhaka.

"These two ladies have dominated the politcal scene for nearly 24 years. It has been known as 'the battle of the two Begums'. The most unfortunate part in this battle is that both them believe in democracy, both of them believe in the democratic rights of the people for them to vote and elect a government. But they never see eye-to-eye how to make it work .... Both of them are at loggerheads to see that their own viewpoint prevails. It's an open opportunity for both these parties to go to polls, to ask the people who do they want to govern."

Kailash Budhwar, a South Asia analyst

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Al Jazeera
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