Wall Street Journal, Sadanand Dhume and ‘Bangladesh’s bad election choice’

Sohail Choudhury

On December 28, 2018, America’s most prestigious and influential newspaper, the Wall Street Journal has published an opinion-editorial titled – ‘Bangladesh’s bad election choice’.

In the article, research scholar and columnist Sadanand Dhume wrote, “For Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League, seeking a third consecutive term, the vote is a referendum on peace and progress. For the opposition, it’s the last chance for the world’s eighth-most-populous nation to avert one-party authoritarian rule. “This election is democracy’s last stand,” says Kamal Hossain in an email interview. The 81-year-old lawyer and former Oxford academic heads the five-party opposition alliance, the Jatiya Oikya Front.”

Predicting victory for the ruling Awami League, Mr. Dhume wrote, “Opinion polls in Bangladesh are unreliable, but most informed observers expect Ms. Hasina to win comfortably. In some ways, she has presided over the best decade in the country’s 47-year history. The economy has boomed, security forces have cracked down on Islamist terrorist groups, and ties with India have improved dramatically. By providing refuge to some 750,000 Rohingya Muslims driven out of Myanmar, Bangladesh has carved out an international profile as a responsible and compassionate Muslim-majority nation that helps stabilize a volatile region.”

The writer is absolutely correct about the economic boom of Bangladesh during the last 10-year-rule of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Of course, major segment of this economic growth was contributed by country’s export-oriented textile and readymade garment sector as well as Bangladeshi workers in abroad. It is also true; the ruling party has very effectively contained radical Islamic militancy and drastically improved relations with India. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina did not hesitate in fulfilling any of the requirements or demands of our friendly neighbor. But something Mr. Dhume must have missed in his article – the December 30 general election is a “bad election choice” not because of the race between Awami League and the main opposition Jatiyo Oikya Front (National Unity Front) led Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). It is because of the fact of the ruling party’s alliance with the pro-Caliphate group like Hefazat-e-Islam (HeI) and BNP’s affiliation with Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI). While JeI demands establishment of “Allah’s rule”, HeI clearly denounces democracy and demands establishment of Caliphate in Bangladesh. If economic boom is the only consideration – Awami League should have been the priority. But, when this economic boom comes with Caliphate-monger associates of the ruling party, it would be simply honey-coated poison.

If newspapers like the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) can put preference of economic boom by sidetracking democracy and human rights, why they should oppose a country like China where economic boom is rather an example to the rest of the world. Hopefully it is not necessary to remind the WSJ pundits – any nation, where democracy, rule of law and human rights are absent, any such “economic boom” may ultimately bring nothing good to the people of that country in the end. Corruption and nepotism is two other factors, which deserves attention of every pro-democratic force.

On December 30, the ruling Awami League may win. It may even get a landslide, as has been already forecasted by most of its leaders. But what if the electoral process itself draws controversy? What, if the election is labeled as being rigged? Can we get assurance of receiving greetings and recognitions from the international community from December 31 giving legitimacy to the government that would rule the country for another five years? If replies to all of these questions are affirmative, I would say – bravo Awami League.

Sohail Choudhury is the executive editor of Blitz

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