Has the main opposition in Bangladesh been decimated?

Rameshwar Thapa from Thailand

Following the fall of military dictatorship of Gen Hussain Muhammad Ershad in 1990, history of elections in Bangladesh haven’t seen any of the ruling parties getting more than 97 percent of the total 300 seats in the parliament. In practical mathematics it is totally out of question. But, on December 30, 2018, this has turned into reality when ruling Awami League and its alliance partners showed the chamatkari (hallucinations). Most possibly, few of the sensible members of the ruling party too are feeling increasingly embarrassed at the result of Sunday’s election, because they are aware of the reality and even know, vibrant media of today’s world may not buy any cooked-up story of the Election Commission or the victors. Hopefully they have watched and read reports from BBC, DW, VOA and other international news outlets. Although Indian media are competing in giving credence to the 12/30 general election, possibly they are missing a serious point – whatever the Indian media might say it would hardly matters to the Western policymakers. Westerners greatly depend on their own news sources as well as the feedbacks from the missions in the respective countries.

As Bangladesh currently stands as one of the top-ranking fastest growing economies in the world, from December 30, unfortunately, it has made a place in the list of those nations, where democracy either is a mockery or blockbuster comedy show. It terribly sickened me seeing a popular leader like Sheikh Hasina, who has exhibited her superb leadership qualities in uplifting a economically struggling Bangladesh into a fastest growing economy – had to let the Election Commission hire some stooges from Nepal and India to observe the election while observers like ANFREL were obstructed through intentional red-tapism. One of the many reasons behind doing so would be Bangladesh’s authority’s growing discomfort towards the United States. Let’s remember, ANFREL is funded by the US. Such instance of wrong behavior may not ultimately make the American President Donald Trump and his administration happy.

This time, European Union couldn’t send any election observer to Bangladesh due to financial constraint. On the other hand, United Kingdom possibly would depend on the reports from its embassy in Bangladesh.

How was the 12/30 general election in Bangladesh? If anyone is looking for reply to this question, s/he would most definitely look into media reports – more precisely reports in the unbiased Western media as they know, Bangladeshi or Indian media may not be presenting the real picture. For the Bangladeshi media, it might be due to self-censorship, while Indian media most definitely are biased towards the Bangladeshi ruling party for its pro-India image and approach.

There possibly is little room of having any doubt about Bangladeshi policymaker’s allergic attitude towards the West. Recently, Mr. Sajeeb Wazed Joy, extremely influential son of the Bangladeshi Prime Minister tweeted saying, “Western media has called every eastern leader who developed his country rapidly authoritarian. Leaders like #Mahatir of #Malaysia, #LeeKwanYu of #Singapore. Can’t find any other fault, sling authoritarian mud!”

Is there really any scope of arguing Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad, Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yu was cruel dictators? Is it the “Western media” that wrongly or falsely had branded them as dictators? On 12/28, Mr. Sajeeb Wazed Joy in an exclusive interview to the Reuters said, ““You know what my mother told me this morning? ‘Branded authoritarian by the Western media now is a badge of honor’”

He later clarified on Facebook that his mother compared herself to Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia and Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, who he said were both called authoritarian by Western media when they were leading their nations to development, “yet are considered heroes now.”

“History will remember Sheikh Hasina as one of them,” he said in the Facebook post.

In the recent times, Mahathir Mohamad led a movement against Malaysia’s most corrupt and controversial Prime Minister Najib Razak, which had resulted in a humiliating defeat for Najib’s party in the election. Mahathir, one time party comrade and of Najib is now his bitterest foe. Although Mahathir had become Malaysia’s Prime Minister once again, he still is known for his Jew-hatred and anti-Semite mindset.

What happened with to the main opposition?

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which is seen as the only political rival of the ruling Awami League has won only five seats in the 12/30 general election. Does it mean, BNP has already been decimated and probably on the verge of total elimination? Prior to the election, Mr. Sajeeb Wazed Joy had already told the media, after December 30, BNP and Jamaat will go into extinction. Was it a signal of elimination of BNP?

Before drawing any conclusion on the 12/30 general election, we need to remember a point – BNP has greatly lost support of the younger generation because of its affiliation with Jamaat e Islami party. Younger generations are mostly against radical and political Islam. They really do not want to see a country ruled or dictated by Iran-type mullahs. Jamaat e Islami is just another party like those is Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, which would turn a secular Bangladesh into a ruthless Sharia nation. If BNP is at all willing to get its lost image, it should immediately disassociate from Jamaat e Islami party. The election of 12/30 might not have reflected the actual popularity or acceptability of BNP as majority of its voters were deprived or barred from voting. Only a real election held in free and fair manner would give us the exact picture of the political landscape of Bangladesh.

Rameshwar Thapa is a research scholar

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