Inside Story

Will Bangladesh slide into further turmoil?

With elections boycotted by the opposition and marred by violence, we discuss the prospects for the country's democracy.

Last updated: 07 Jan 2014 11:18
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Bangladesh's ruling Awami League scored an easy victory in general elections on Sunday. With more than half of the seats uncontested, there was never any doubt that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina would win the vote, but the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), having boycotted the elections, is now demanding the results be declared null and void. 

This is a mockery, this is a dramatic election that the world has witnessed.

Mahidur Rahman, an international affairs secretary at Bangladesh Nationalist Party's central committee

BNP supporters are out protesting with leaders calling for a 48-hour general strike.

It was an election plagued by violence. At least 24 people are thought to have been killed since Sunday and dozens more died in the run up.  

Bangladesh is no stranger to political turmoil. For most of the past 22 years, Sheikh Hasina and the BNP leader, Khaleda Zia have taken it in turns to hold the country's top position. These two women were once friends, but are now bitter foes.

In 2009, Sheikh Hasina became prime minister for the second time. In 2010, she set up a war crimes tribunal to investigate abuses committed during the War of Independence in 1971 and Jamaat-e-Islami accused her of pursuing a political vendetta. 

A lot of the attacks we are seeing here in Bangladesh, this is not political violence when one is attacking key installation points, minorities and so on, this is not simply political violence, we are witnessing terrorism, and BNP needs to delink itself from terrorist organisations in order to go forward.

Tania Amir, a constitutional expert

And in 2011, Sheikh Hasina added the 15th amendment to the constitution that abolished the caretaker government, which is usually established to oversee elections. It also made the constitution more secular, although Islam was kept as the state religion. 

Both moves sparked a wave of angry demonstrations across Bangladesh. 

On Monday, Sheikh Hasina addressed the media, in which she remained defiant and offered no conciliatory gestures to the opposition.

"This year, elections have happened not only to secure democracy but to fight against undemocratic systems. We want to keep the flow of progress of Bangladesh and we have secured our independence at the cost of many lives and want to secure a golden era of Bangladesh through this election.

"The main opposition could have joined to make it a success, but they have not been cooperative, they have not taken any part. As you know I have requested the opposition leader to come to this election but she has defied me," Sheikh Hasina said.

So, will the country slide into further turmoil? Or will the prime minister reach out to her opponents for a compromise?

Inside Story presenter Laura Kyle discusses with guests: Tania Amir, a constitutional expert and barrister; Mahidur Rahman, an international affairs secretary at Bangladesh Nationalist Party's central committee; and Kailash Budhwar, a South Asia analyst.

"All this campaign, all this turmoil, all this opposition because of the 'battle of the two begums' is bringing such a bad picture to Bangladesh, it's of course blackening its future. Politicians must sit together, must decide what's the way out, and the only way out is getting the mandate of the people, asking the people to decide who should govern them."

Kailash Budhwar, a South Asia analyst


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