Despatch from Dhaka | International

A new term for Bangladesh’s Hasina, with a younger Cabinet

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka.   | Photo Credit: AP

Two stunning developments greeted Bangladesh’s political scene in a week: the ruling Awami League secured a landslide victory in the election and its chief, Sheikh Hasina, abandoned the old guard and packed her Cabinet with newcomers, bringing some of them from relative obscurity.

On January 6, the Hasina administration announced a 47-member Cabinet, allocating ministerial responsibilities to its members. It was for the first time in Bangladesh’s history that the list of new Cabinet members was disclosed to the media, prior to the swearing-in ceremony closely watched by journalists.

Ms. Hasina formed the Cabinet, with 27 of the members new to the administration. As many as 34 old Cabinet members lost berths in the new Council of Ministers.

Tofail Ahmed, Amir Hossain Amu, Matia Chowdhury, Mohammad Nasim and Shajahan Khan were among the heavyweights who were left out of the new Cabinet. The new Council inducted two technocrats.

With Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, 84, retiring from active politics, Planning Minister A.H.M. Mustafa Kamal has been appointed as the Finance Minister — a post he had coveted for long. A.K. Abdul Momen, a younger sibling of Mr. Muhith, was assigned the Foreign Ministry. Dipu Moni rode back into the limelight: she was Bangladesh’s first woman Foreign Minister, serving Ms. Hasina’s Cabinet from 2009 to 2013. Now she is the first woman Education Minister. Amid discussions over veteran politicians getting ignored, Ms. Hasina said they had not failed but she had brought changes to train the younger leaders for the future. “I wanted something new after having the same Ministers for 10 years. I have a new set-up so that they can learn something.”

Bangladesh’s political scene saw two stunning developments in a week. Not only did Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League win a landslide in the general election, her new Cabinet included 27 new members

On December 30, Ms. Hasina secured an unprecedented fourth term in the general election, expanding her rule as the country’s longest serving Prime Minister.

Allegations by Opposition

However, allegations of vote-rigging, intimidation and violence sullied the results. Citing “widespread vote-rigging” and violence, the Opposition demanded fresh polls under a neutral caretaker government. The Election Commission rejected the call, as expected, and Ms. Hasina was sworn in on January 7 as Prime Minister.

“The dominance of Awami League in the country’s Parliament suggests that the legislature’s ability to effectively check and balance the executive is reduced to almost nil in Bangladesh. And while the country’s politics theoretically operates under a multiparty system, the Awami League’s 96% share of seats reinforces our view about Bangladesh’s shift towards a one-party-dominant system,” said Marthe Hinojales, an analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a risk consultancy.

She added, “The crackdown on the Opposition — including reports of arbitrary arrest and detention of protesters and political Opposition figures — and the inability of institutions like the Election Commission to independently and fairly investigate voting anomalies suggest that any credible threat to Hasina and AL’s rule is unlikely.”

As the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) suffered a colossal election upset, the Jatiya Party emerged as the second-largest party in Parliament, securing 22 seats. The party’s chief, H.M. Ershad, an 88-year-old former military ruler, chose to be the Leader of the Opposition. His wish was later blessed by Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury.

The Hasina administration is all set for the next five years with a new mandate. What remains to be seen is how the government will deliver on its anti-corruption pledge.

Arun Devnath is a journalist based in Dhaka, Bangladesh

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 12:32:17 PM |

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