Thursday, February 12, 2009

Foreign media send early warning signals to Awami League?

It seems the international press is sending early warning signal to Awami League. Is it too early to send such signal when AL is busy enjoying the honeymoon period? Read two interesting pieces: Dhaka AFP's story (read between the lines) and International Heral Tribune suggesting Hasina to make much progress in addressing Bangladesh paradox.

DHAKA (AFP) — A string of political murders, violent street protests and a parliamentary boycott all suggest that Bangladesh is quickly falling back into its old troubling ways after recent elections, analysts say.

The polls, won by the Awami League of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed, were hailed by international monitoring groups as a huge success that crowned two years of relative stability under an army-backed government.

Voting was meant to usher in a new era of democratic rule but, just six weeks later, political violence is spreading across the country, with police saying more than two dozen people have been murdered.

Awami League officials who were out of power for seven long years are allegedly behind many of the deaths as they settle scores with activists of the defeated Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

Ataur Rahman, a political analyst at Dhaka University, says he can detect many symptoms of Bangladesh's "ugly old-style politics."

"Our politics of revenge have come back again with a renewed vigour. Parties are settling scores, and students and political activists are feeling free to do whatever they can. We are again at our prejudiced best," he said.

"It shows that our politicians haven't learnt anything in the past two years or from history."

The BNP, which had won 2001 polls, has boycotted parliament -- a favourite wrecking tactic used often throughout Bangladesh's history of dysfunctional politics.

The trigger for the walkout was an apparently petty dispute about seating arrangements, but the BNP quickly brought proceedings to a standstill and shows no sign of backing down.

In another sign of trouble since the new Awami League government took over, thousands of student activists -- a major political force in Bangladesh -- have clashed with police almost every day, leaving hundreds of people injured.

Many universities and colleges have been shut due to the street violence, which has also brought traffic chaos back to the country's main cities.

"We thought that free and fair elections would solve many of the problems that wracked previous democratic administrations," said Salahuddin Aminuzzman, a political scientist also at Dhaka University.

In 2007, street fighting between the Awami League and BNP prompted an army-backed government to take control and -- with foreign support -- introduce reforms designed to halt the downwards spiral in Bangladeshi politics.

The interim government began a major campaign to clean up politics, including a UN-funded photographic electoral roll which knocked 13 million fake names off the register.

But it failed in its efforts to end the dominance of Sheikh Hasina and BNP chief Khaleda Zia, who have maintained a debilitating rivalry for decades.

In all three elections since democracy was restored in the country in 1991, the losers never accepted the results and began a series of protests and strikes immediately after the polls.

"Expectations were high that both Awami League and BNP would this time start to behave differently," Aminuzzman said.

"But the ruling party is not making any concessions and its activists are on a violent rampage. The BNP has also shown intolerance. It seems the old revenge politics is back in its all fury."

The seeds of future unrest are already being sown, according to Professor Manzur Hasan, head of the Institute of Governance Studies at Dhaka's BRAC University.

"I've toured the country over the past week and talked to scores of people who are becoming very disappointed," he said.

"They thought things would be different but events over the last few weeks have disheartened them."

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