Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What does a Hasina win mean for Bangladesh?

Read Reuter's analysis:

DHAKA (Reuters) - An alliance under Bangladesh's former prime minister Sheikh Hasina won a big parliamentary majority in the country's first polls in seven years, unofficial results showed on Tuesday.

Following are answers to questions about what her apparent victory means for the South Asian nation of more than 140 million people:


Bangladesh's past experiences with democracy have been mixed at best, with losing parties refusing to accept results and resorting at times to violent street protests and strikes. Military figures, in and out of uniform, have sporadically stepped in, justifying their actions on the need for order.

Although main opposition figure Begum Khaleda Zia said during the campaign the time for confrontational politics had passed, on election day she suggested she would win any fair election, and her Bangladesh Nationalist Party complained about cheating once the polls closed. Those comments could set the stage for post-election turmoil, although the outgoing army-backed interim government said it was ready to crush any outbreaks of violence.

Separately, political analysts have started suggesting that Hasina reach out to her old rival and give her a share of power.


Bangladesh's neighbours worry an increasingly violent Islamist militant minority could provide support and shelter for radicals in their own countries.

Hasina has been a consistent opponent of such groups, and said during her campaign she would act aggressively against them.

Her overwhelming victory and the fact some analysts attribute it partly to Khaleda's alliance with an Islamist party suggest Hasina can follow through on her campaign pledges without concern for negative political consequences, and also resist pressure to make Bangladesh less tolerant and secular.

Reinforcing that view was a poor performance by Islamist candidates, according to the unofficial results.


Nearly 40 percent of Bangladesh's population live on less than $1 a day. About a third of the country floods annually during the monsoon season, hampering economic development.

Hasina's platform and past policies point to support for gradually liberalising the economy to boost growth.

Her huge majority may also give her the clout to develop significant coal and natural gas resources and much-needed power generating infrastructure, which might require the expertise of foreign firms. But if she cannot prevent the street protests and strikes seen in the past, many investors will stay away.

Endemic corruption that distorts Bangladesh's economic playing field has been another turn-off for investors. The outgoing government detained Hasina for a year on graft charges, which she denied. She pledged in her campaign to fight corruption this time. A desire not to give the military an excuse to intervene or impose a government that would take her back to court could be a strong incentive for her to follow through.


What role the powerful army will assume when an elected government takes charge is a common concern.

Analysts and diplomats say the army is likely to at least hover behind the scenes for a time to see if the new government can get a grip on corruption and avoid violence.

If so, it may leave things to Hasina and her ministers. One incentive it has for doing so is that a lack of involvement at home means maximum flexibility for the military to serve in various overseas U.N. peacekeeping missions.

Those missions generate compensatory payments to the country as well as pay the participating soldiers and officers salaries far above what they could earn at home.

If the new government fails badly, few doubt the military will be tempted to return with an overt role, which could mean the loss of much needed foreign aid from democratic countries.

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