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Parliamentary Election - 05 January 2014

On 25 January 2009, the new parliament convened for its first session. Members of the main opposition party, the BNP, which alleged irregularities in the elections, participated in the first few sessions but subsequently walked out to protest the inadequate allocation of seats in the front row of the opposition bench and did not return to the house at year's end. The parliament formed all 48 standing committees in the first session with participation from opposition parties. In 2009, shortly after Sheikh Hasina took office as Prime Minister, some of the country's border guards mutinied, resulting in the deaths of more than 70 people. According to media reports, 59 BDR members arrested in the wake of the February 2009 mutiny died in custody. Family members of the victims alleged that they died after being tortured. According to Odhikar, a Bangladeshi human rights organization, several BDR members taken into custody claimed the RAB and police physically assaulted and beat them, administered electric shocks, blindfolded them, and hung them upside down while in custody. The government investigation ruled that only two members died due to torture and that the others died because of illness or suicide.

Members of the security forces committed numerous extrajudicial killings. Police, Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) border force, and the RAB at times use unwarranted lethal force. The government did not release statistics for total killings by all security personnel. The government also did not take comprehensive measures to investigate cases, despite public statements by high-ranking officials that the government would show "zero tolerance" and would fully investigate all extrajudicial killings by security forces. The number of killings by police and combined security forces has increased in recent years. According to the media and local human rights organizations, by the end of 2010 no case had resulted in criminal punishment, and in the few instances in which the government brought charges, those found guilty generally received administrative punishment. Some members of the security forces acted with impunity.

Vigilante killings occurred during the year 2010, although figures suggested that the problem lessened or remained the same as in 2009. Odhikar reported at least 174 killings, but local human rights organizations acknowledged that the number of reported cases probably represented only a fraction of the actual incidents. According to the New Age, on July 18, a mob lynched six suspected robbers in the village of Enayetpur in Gazipur. There was no official investigation. According to the Daily Star, a mob beat two suspected kidnappers to death in Kushtia Sadar on 30 August 2010.

Although public criticism of the government was common, newspapers depended on government advertisements for a significant percentage of their revenue. As a result, self-censorship by newspapers was common. There were hundreds of daily and weekly independent publications. Although there were improvements over the previous year, newspapers critical of the government still experienced government pressure in 2010. Journalists perceived to be critical of the government and those aligned with the opposition alleged harassment from unspecified wings of the security forces and members of the ruling party. In addition to one official government-owned news service, there were two private news services.

Having walked out several times in 2009, the opposition MPs returned to parliament on 11 February 2010 but resumed their boycott only a few hours later. They demanded fair treatment by the speaker and the ruling party legislators as preconditions for their return to the house. The parliament formed all 48 standing committees in the first session with participation from opposition parties. The opposition MPs continued to participate in standing committee meetings despite their absence from parliament.

On 13 May 2011 Bangladesh's Nobel laureate Mohammad Yunus left the pioneering Grameen Bank microfinance bank he founded, days after a court upheld the Bangladeshi government's decision to remove him. The Bangladesh Supreme Court rejected a final appeal by Yunus last week to remain at the helm of the bank he founded to give loans to the poor. The government fired Yunus as the microlender's managing director in March 2011, saying he overstayed the official retirement age of 60. Yunus is 70. His supporters believe he has been politically targeted for briefly trying to start his own political party in 2007.

In June 2011 Bangladesh was hit by a general strike that closed shops and businesses and interfered with transportation. Clashes between police and strikers were reported in Dhaka, the capital, and several arrests were reported. The strike also was felt in the port city of Chittagong, the country's second largest. A 36-hour work stoppage was called by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its Islamic ally, Jamaat-e-Islami. They were protesting a proposed amendment to the nation's constitution that they said favors the incumbent government. The change in the constitution proposed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina from the ruling Awami League would scrap a system in which a nonpartisan caretaker government rules Bangladesh for three-months during an election period.

On 19 January 2012 military officials said they had uncovered a plot by religious extremists to overthrow the government. Brigadier General Muhammad Masud Razzaq shared details of the attempted coup with reporters, calling it a "heinous conspiracy" to topple Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Razzaq said the coup had been planned abroad and that two retired military officers had already been arrested. A third man, Army Major Ziaul Haq, was on the run. Razzaq said a total of 16 current and former military officers had been involved. Bangladeshi intelligence officials say the military uncovered the coup plot in December 2011 and that the plotters planned to introduce strict Islamic Sharia law. Prime Minister Hasina had cracked down on Islamic militant groups since taking office in early 2009. She had repeatedly warned such groups were plotting against her government.

A Bangladesh-based rights groups had documented the disappearance of at least 22 people from January to April, 2012 and another had tracked the disappearance of more than 50 people since 2010. Recent missing politicians and activists include — Elias Ali of the main opposition party and Aminul Islam, a labor rights activist. Ali disappeared on April 17, while Islam disappeared on April 4. Human Rights Watch said 27 April 2012 the Bangladeshi government should immediately order “an independent and impartial investigation”into what it called the “growing number of cases” of opposition and political activists who have recently disappeared. Human rights advocates have long documented abductions and killings by Bangladeshi security forces, especially the Rapid Action Battalion. There has been a sharp increase in people disappearing after last being seen in the custody of Bangladeshi security agencies.

On 30 April 2012 Police charged at least 28 opposition activists after a series of bombings in the capital. Several small bombs exploded in Dhaka the previous day, two of which targeted government officials. There were no reports of injuries. The violence took place as members of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party continued a nationwide strike to protest the disappearance of one of its regional leaders, Ilias Ali, who had been missing for nearly two weeks. Schools and businesses remained closed in Dhaka and other cities on Monday as the general strike called by the BNP continued.

By early May 2012 violence and a political crackdown was threatening to send Bangladesh into political turmoil. The atmosphere in Bangladesh had grown increasingly tense in April 2012 as the country was beset with general strikes led by opposition parties that said many of their leaders had disappeared. The government responded with a further crackdown on dissent.

The Shahbagh / Shahbag mass movement began on Tuesday 05 February 2013 in Dhaka with the demand of capital punishment for Abdul Quader Mollah and others accused war criminals of the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh. Mollah had flashed a victory sign after the judgement, suggesting he expected to be freed if the BNP won the 2014 election. He was proven guilty on five counts out of six charges that were brought against him, including murdering more than 300 people. The photo of this man emerging from the court, smiling and making a Victory sign, so infuriated the youth that they gave a call on social network to gather at the historic Shahbagh Square.

Gono Jagoron Manch / Ganajagaran Mancha [People's Resurgence Platform or National Awakening Stage] was formed on the day Abdul Quader Mollah was given life sentence. It held protests against Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamic party in Bangladesh. Activists of People's Resurgence Platform or Gonojagoron Mancha shouted slogans on the streets and took out huge rallies, in which they marched with burning torches. In April 2013 member of the Gonojagoron Mancha (people's resurgence platform), Syed Zakir Ahmed has demanded banning of extremist group, Jamaat-E-Islami dubbing it is anti-national. Lashing out at the Jamaat-E-Islami, Ahmed said that the extremist party is undemocratic and has violated human rights. He added that the Jamaat-e-Islami has looted Bangladeshi's, raped women and attempted to stall the nation's birth through its anti-national policies.

The controversial war crimes court sentenced the former head of Jamaat-e-Islami party, Ghulam Azam, to 90 years in prison for his role in atrocities committed during the country’s war of independence. Azam, a top Islamist leader, was found guilty of several crimes including inciting and planning war crimes in 1971, when Bangladesh broke free of Pakistan. Prosecutors said he played a key role in setting up militia groups that killed and raped thousands of people. His defense lawyers said the charges were politically motivated. The sentencing of 90-year-old Ghulam Azam triggered violent clashes in which several people died and many were injured. Ghulam Azam was the fifth leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party to be sentenced since January by the war crimes tribunal, set up by the Awami-League led government in 2010. The trials triggered violence that left more than 100 people dead since January 2013.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s critics said she was using the tribunals to settle political scores and weaken the opposition ahead of the 2014 general elections. Hasina said the prosecutions were an attempt to find justice for the tens of thousands of people who died during the country’s struggle for independence forty years ago and their surviviors. The trials alienated Islamic groups in the country from the ruling party. The main opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party is capitalizing on these problems of the government, and they were mobilizing on the support of the Islamic groups as well as their own support.

Many middle class, secular people in Bangladesh supported the trials and called for stiff punishments for the Islamist leaders. But experts said out in the countryside there was strong support for the Jamaat-e-Islami party and anger at the ongoing trials. Human rights groups also criticized the war crimes tribunal for falling short of international standards.

On August 01, 2013 a Bangladesh court barred the country's main Islamic party from participating in next year's general election, declaring that its charter conflicts with the country's secular constitution. The ruling by the Dhaka High Court follows a long-running petition that sought to cancel the registration of Jamaat-e-Islami as a political party on grounds that it calls for Islamic law. Jamaat's lawyer said the party would appeal the verdict, as party activists took to the streets in several parts of the country to protest the decision. "We think that the Honorable High Court has opened a Pandora's box by giving the verdict to cancel the registration of Jamaat-e-Islami," he said. "We believe that this is a challenge to state's democracy and rule of law." Jamaat had been a member of several coalition governments. The party was accused of colluding with the Pakistani army during Bangladesh's 1971 war for independence. Six party leaders had been sentenced for war crimes since January 2013, while others remained on trial.

President Zillur Rahman died in March 2013. The vacant post of President must be filled within 90 days from the day of the vacancy. On April 29th 2013 the next president was indirectly elected by parliament to serve a 5 year term. Current parliamentary speaker Abdul HAMID was elected unopposed.

On 14 August 2013 supporters of Bangladesh people's resurgence platform, Ganajagaran Mancha, took to streets to counter the 48-hour nationwide strike called by country's main Islamic party. On 18 September 2013 Bangladesh people's resurgence platform, Gonojagoron Mancha called for speedy trial of war criminals, accused of genocide during 1971 liberation struggle. Spokesperson of Gonojagoron Mancha, Imran H Sarkar, said that the war criminals should not be acquitted due to the present loopholes within the legal system of the country.

Bangladesh People’s Resurgence Platform or Gonojagoron Mancha demanded death sentence for Islamist leader, Abdul Alim who was handed life sentence by the country’s special war crimes tribunal. Earlier on October 09, Bangladesh's war crimes tribunal handed a life sentence to Alim, a former opposition lawmaker. The 82-year-old was found guilty on nine charges relating to crimes against humanity, arson and looting during Bangladesh's 1971 War of Independence. Protesters took to streets, shouting slogans and demanding death penalty for Alim.

Convicted of committing war crimes during the nation's war of independence against Pakistan in 1971, Abdul Quader Mollah [ known as Koshai (butcher) Quader in 1971] was hanged 12 December 2013, after the Supreme Court rejected his last-minute appeal. In a country in which every aspect of life is party politicised, Mollah and his gang needed only to wait for the government to change (which it does regularly) to get their release. So it was said they had to be hanged to ensure they got the punishment they had earned.

The entire country had been under hartal (General Strike) called by Jamaat-e-Islami since the declaration of the General Elections by the Election Commission on November 25, 2013. The hartals have been partially successful, with 32 of 64 Districts recording disruptive activities, such as shut downs, street violence, injury and killing. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a total of 314 persons, including 182 civilians, 118 JeI-ICS cadres and 14 Security Force (SF) personnel have been killed in street violence since January 21, 2013, when the first verdict in the War Crimes Trials had been delivered (all data till December 15, 2013). As many as 6,762 people have been injured in the violence involving JeI-ICS cadres over this period.

The 10th Jatiya Sangsad election was set for 05 January 2014. The constitution required an election to be held by 24 January 2014, but there was initially no agreement between the opposition and the ruling parties as to who would oversee the election. The leader of the opposition Khaleda Zia threatened to boycott the election if her demand that a non-partisan neutral caretaker be installed beforehand was not met. The ruling Awami League offered the opposition parties an opportunity to join an all-party government to oversee the election.

Bangladesh's 18-party opposition coalition said 02 December 2013 it would boycott the general election. The opposition parties, led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) announced that it would boycott the coming elections. The alliance had demanded that Prime Minister HASINA resign and appoint a neutral caretaker government to oversee the elections, fearing interference in the polls. In addition to the 18-party alliance, the Jatiya Party led by former President H.M. ERSHAD has said they will boycott the elections, despite having previously served as a member of the governing coalition.

Prime Minister Hasina had, on December 12, 2013, gave an assurance that the coming national election in Bangladesh would be held in a free, fair, neutral and acceptable manner as per the country’s Constitution. With the War Crimes issue coming to a head, and the opposition BNP unambiguous rejection of the electoral process, this seemed increasingly unlikely. With the main opposition boycotting the parliamentary election, Sheikh Hasina’s party was assured of victory.

Tens of thousands of troops were deployed across Bangladesh to stem the tide of political violence. The opposition in Bangladesh called for a 48-hour general strike 04 January 2014, the eve of national elections. The boycott and other anti-government moves by the opposition make it unlikely the election will stem a wave of political violence that has killed more than 150 people in recent months. The ruling Awami League was a sure winner at the polls without BNP's participation.

In 05 January 2014 Awami League candidates ran unopposed in more than half of the country's parliamentary constituencies. Preliminary results confirmed that ruling Awami League candidates won more than three quarters (232 according to preliminary counts) of the 300 elected seats, giving it a sweeping majority in parliament. Its allies controlled most of the other seats. The opposition BNP, which did not participate in the elections, nonetheless won 68 seats.

Marie Harf, Deputy Department Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson, said on 06 Janaury 2914 "The United States is disappointed by the recent Parliamentary elections in Bangladesh. With more than half of the seats uncontested and most of the remainder offering only token opposition, the results of the just-concluded elections do not appear to credibly express the will of the Bangladeshi people."

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Page last modified: 17-12-2015 17:51:48 ZULU