Bangladesh Mobilizes Security Forces Ahead of Critical Election
By Steve Herman
26 December 2008
Bangladesh is putting hundreds of thousands of uniformed personnel and civilian monitors onto the streets in hopes of securing a fair and peaceful election Monday. The national parliamentary balloting is to clear the way for the government caretakers, installed by the army in early 2007, to return power to a democratically elected government.
For Bangladesh this will be the third try at democracy since the country won independence from Pakistan in 1971.
The military-backed government, in place for nearly two years, in one of its final acts, has sent the army onto the streets after the lifting of emergency law to try to ensure a peaceful election.
Keeping the Peace
In past elections, rallies would often end with violent clashes between supporters of the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. An estimated 600,000 enforcement officers and soldiers this time are trying to keep peace and there appears to be serious restraint by the parties to keep their supporters in line.
The actual balloting will be scrutinized by 200,000 monitors and 2,000 foreign observers.
The chairman of the National Election Observation Council, university professor Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah, told VOA the observers should help mitigate any attempts at rigging the results.
"It'll boost confidence in the process. We know that the whole world is looking at us. Apart from them we the local observers are here. So if you combine both the national and international effort, we get a real sort-of confidence-building measure, he said.
The parliamentary election is meant to restore democracy and usher in a new era, hopefully devoid of the corruption and violence of the past.
The Next PM: Hasina or Zia?
It is almost certain that the next prime minister will be either Sheik Hasina of the Awami League or the BNP's Kaleda Zia. The two women, known as the "Battling Begums" for their fierce rivalry, have each previously served as prime minister. Both were jailed by the interim government on graft charges.
One survey found that about 150 candidates are either facing murder or corruption charges. But Professor Kalimullah said criminal suspects are free to contest the election until their appeals to the Supreme Court are exhausted.
"Both the parties, they have candidates like them. And those people were tried under state of emergency by kangaroo courts, quote, unquote. So those are doubtful sort of verdicts, as well," he said.
What also still remains in doubt is, despite the best effort of the election commission and the caretaker government, whether Monday's balloting can be conducted fairly and peacefully. Also critical for the return to democracy: the losers accepting the outcome and agreeing to challenge the next government in parliament rather than on the streets.
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