Analysis: could a jail term for Khaleda Zia spell unrest in Bangladesh?

Weeks before the verdict, the BNP has warned that it would launch an agitation

January 28, 2018 10:02 pm | Updated 10:02 pm IST - Dhaka

Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader Khaleda Zia.

Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader Khaleda Zia.

As the February 8 court verdict in a graft case against the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader Khaleda Zia approaches, Bangladesh’s mostly peaceful political environment risks turning volatile. The BNP, backed by its Islamist allies, has warned that it would take to the streets if the verdict goes against their leader.

Ms. Zia, her son Tarique Rahman, who has been living in London for nine years, and four others are the accused in the case, which concerns the alleged embezzlement of Tk. 21 million in foreign donations meant for the ‘Zia Orphanage Trust’.

Ms. Zia, who faces life imprisonment if found guilty, held a crucial party meeting on Saturday to discuss the next course of action. BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said the party urged the people to “launch a democratic movement” against the “government’s conspiracy in the name of trial”.

Many senior BNP leaders said that if their leader is convicted, “a disastrous situation” might be created in the country, no matter whether the BNP announces any protest programme or not. However, independent analysts do not foresee any major unrest as the BNP’s organisational strength has abated after the party was reduced to the status of a non-parliamentary opposition following its boycott of the 2014 general election.

In response to BNP’s threat, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal warned of stern action if anyone tried to create anarchy after the verdict.

The ruling Awami League and its secular allies, it is understood, are determined to preserve the peaceful political environment until the next general election due later this year. On the other hand, the BNP’s leadership looks divided: hardliners are for street agitation while others are for appeal against the verdict. Party’s vice chairman, Shamsuzzaman Dudu said: “Our decision for now is to counter the issue through legal means”.

Meanwhile pro-BNP political analysts have stressed the importance of an effective contingency plan so that the party can be given a direction if Ms. Zia is incarcerated.

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