Parties end bitter campaign in Bangladesh


Awami League bets on developmental record and promises high growth, while BNP vows to ‘restore democracy, rule of law

On the last day of the election campaign on Thursday, Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League almost entirely focussed on the developmental work that it claimed to have delivered, while the main Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) underscored “good governance” and law and order.

Young supporters of the Awami League were seen leading long rallies in the city, with loudspeakers playing “Vote for Nauka” or boat, the symbol of the party. BNP supporters, on the other hand, was largely absent from the streets of Dhaka, claiming that they were threatened by the ruling party, an allegation that the Awami League has denied.

In the 300-seat National Parliament, elections will be held in 299 seats on December 30. Results are expected on December 31.

The Awami League is contesting in a Grand Alliance of over a dozen parties. The Jatiya Party of former President Hussain Muhammad Ershad is with the Grand Alliance, but it has put up candidates alongside the Awami League. He may withdraw a few of them. The Awami League is contesting in 260 seats, of which 49 are new candidates.

Opposition alliance

The situation is perhaps more complicated on the other side. The Opposition has formed a broad coalition of more than 20 parties, Jatiyo Oikya Front (JOF). The BNP, its main constituent, is contesting 258 seats. In 2014, the BNP did not participate in the election, which was swept by the Awami League.

“We were absolutely sure that we will contest the election this time, and in no way we will run away,” Abdul Awal Mintoo, a senior BNP leader, told The Hindu.

Kamal Hossain, the leader of the JOF, was a major leader of the Awami League and the president of the Parliamentary Committee to frame country’s Constitution after Independence.

The traditional understanding to interpret politics of the Awami League as secular and that of BNP as non-secular is not working any more, says Arup Rahee, a writer and musician. “This is an erroneous approach, which many in Indian media are still taking,” he said.

However, the argument that the BNP engages with non-secular politics got a fresh lease when it allowed office-bearers of the Jamaat-e-Islami to contest on its symbol. A BNP official in Dhaka told The Hindu on condition of anonymity that even if it aligned with the Jamaat, the BNP is neither engaging with non-secular politics nor encouraging any form of anti-India campaign.

Anti-India sentiments

“If any party run an anti-India campaign in Bangladesh, it is bound to get 30% more votes, as the anti-India sentiment is as strong as the pro-India one. But we decided to desist from such campaigns, even if India is backing the Awami League,” he said.

Both the BNP and the Awami League had different campaign approaches. The Awami League focused on economic growth and the government’s achievements.

“Today’s Bangladesh is financially strong. Small shocks cannot stop the progress of Bangladesh,” is one of the opening sentences in the party’s manifesto.

In the last three years, Bangladesh has moved from the status of “lower middle-income country” to “a developing country”, according to the UN. Bangladesh’s economic health has improved substantially as the per capita income rose to $1,751 from $543 in 2006, the manifesto claimed. It also promises a 10% annual growth in the next five years, while continuing with its effort to reduce poverty from 41% to 21% in 12 years.

Many “mega projects”, from road and transport networks to power and deep-sea port developments are in place. More will be launched if the Awami League returns to power, the party promised. Modern amenities to villages, community health clinics, digital space development, commitment to protect religious and cultural freedom and law to protect media freedom are also among the promises.

The BNP has focussed on “good governance” in its 12-point manifesto. It has vowed to stand for national unity, reduce “politics of vengeance” and establish rule of law and democracy. It has also promised to initiate transparency in the appointment of judges, and ensure freedom of media.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 11:53:15 PM |

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