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Bangladesh Parliamentary Election
December 2018

The next national election must be held between 31 October 2018 and 28 January 2019. Bangladesh's Election Commission announced on 08 November 2018 that the election will take place despite the imprisonment of the leader of the main opposition party and the banning of its chief partner, Jamaat-e-Islami. "A favourable situation prevails in the country to hold a free and fair election," Chief Election Commissioner Nurul Huda said in an address aired by state-run television and radio stations. Authorities said they will hold a "free and fair" national election despite bitter wrangling between the government and the opposition.

Hasina's archrival and opposition leader Khaleda Zia, who was in jail on corruption charges, was likely to be banned from contesting. The ruling Awami League party rejected an opposition demand for a caretaker government ahead of the election, saying it was "unconstitutional". The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) says a caretaker government is essential for free and fair polls. It is still not clear whether the BNP would contest the election. The party boycotted the 2014 polls, which were marred by deadly violence and labelled by international observers as "flawed". The BNP alleges over 500 of its supporters have been killed and nearly 750 abducted by the police and thrown in jails since 2014.

By late 2017 political parties in Bangladesh began warming up for the next parliamentary polls, anticpated in December 2018. Major alliances led by the ruling Awami League and the BNP had already started taking preparations for the election, with several parties already announcing candidates. Many aspirants hit the campaign trails, but officially the political parties are saying that they do not currently have separate preparations for the polls, which must be held by early 2019. The main opposition BNP boycotted the most recent election held in January 2014, but it must contest the 11th national polls or risk losing its registration with the Election Commission.

Clashes between supporters of rival political parties and their student and youth wings and even factions within the same party are frequent occurrences, particularly in the run-up to elections. General strikes and blockades called by political parties mostly affect businesses by keeping workers away with the threat of violence and blocking transport, resulting in increased costs and productivity losses. Vehicles and other property are at risk from vandalism or arson during such programs, and looting of shops has occurred. There were significant periods of political violence and unrest, particularly surrounding the controversial January 5, 2014 national elections. After calming down for the second half of 2014, both blockades and hartals resumed on January 5, 2015.

More than 120 people were killed and hundreds injured in political violence in 2014, most in petrol bomb attacks on vehicles, amid transport blockades and strikes by the opposition aimed at toppling the government. Political unrest over the first three months of 2015 cost at least 49 billion taka ($630 million) or 0.55 percent of the country's gross domestic products, Center for Policy Dialogue, a leading private think-tank, said 05 April 2015.

Bangladesh's former premier and main opposition leader Khaleda Zia was accused of instigating the latest violence. She also faced charges of embezzling $650,000 in two corruption cases involving charitable funds during her last term as prime minister, from 2001 to 2006. She and leaders of her party denied the charges, saying they were politically motivated. Zia stayed in her office in Dhaka's diplomatic enclave since she was prevented from holding a mass rally on 05 January 2015, the first anniversary of the disputed election.

Bangladesh executed two opposition leaders on 22 November 2015 for war crimes committed during the 1971 war to break away from Pakistan, in a move likely to draw an angry reaction from supporters. “Both of them were hanged simultaneously on two separate platforms,” the police official said. Islamist opposition leader Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid and Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, former legislator from former premier Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), were hanged shortly after President Abdul Hamid rejected their appeals earlier on Saturday for clemency. Mujahid, 67, of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, and Chowdhury, 66, were hanged at Dhaka Central Jail.

Hinting that Khaleda Zia, head of the opposition Nationalist Party, will one day face trial for patronising war criminals including the executed ones, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on 17 December 2015 said there will be no existence of the cohorts of the defeated forces in Bangladesh. "It hurts us that the cohorts of anti-liberation forces still dream of Pakistan despite living in Bangladesh. They couldn’t yet forget their 'Pyare Pakistan'. But, we've to force them to forget it. There’ll be no existence of the cohorts of the defeated forces in Bangladesh," she said.

Alleging that Ziaur Rahman had first patronised the war criminals and rehabilitated them in state power, Hasina said Khaleda followed the path of her husband after assuming power and handed over the national flag stained with the blood of millions of martyrs to those war criminals by making them ministers. "What will answer Khaleda to the nation? These war criminals underwent trials and the court verdicts against them have also been executed, even some of them have been hanged...Khaleda will have to take the responsibility one day for making war criminals ministers," she said.

Hasina lambasted the BNP chief and her son Tarique Rahman for embezzling the fund of orphanage and siphoning off money. "Killers are killers and their trials wills surely be held in Bangladesh, no one will be able to save them," Hasina added.

Hasina said both Ziaur Rahman and his wife Khaleda Zia had always hatched conspiracies so that Bangladesh could never keep its head high on the global stage. For the long 21 years from 1975 to 1996, Bangladesh had been heading towards a failed state. "But, after assuming office by our government in 1996, the people of Bangladesh turned it around."

The government put pressure on people who criticized its activities or reject its political or philosophical stance. A climate of fear gripped the country. As a result, some media outlets exercised self-censorship. For example, political TV talk shows are very popular in the country, but the government agencies provided the TV authorities with a list of pro-government guests for the talk shows. TV channels were directly or indirectly pressured not to go beyond such lists when choosing their guests and most channels comply. They were given a list of the people who should not be invited to TV talk shows.

A court in Bangladesh issued an arrest warrant for opposition leader Khaleda Zia March 30, 2016 over the 2015 fire-bombing of a bus that killed two people and injured many others. Zia and 27 other leaders from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party were accused of instigating the bombing during an event in 2015 that saw protesters across the country blockade roads and strike in an effort to topple the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

“The court passed the order after accepting the charges against them," said public prosecutor Shah Alam Talukdar. Talukdar also said Zia is the main suspect accused in the case. Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, a spokesperson for the opposition party, though, called the charges “laughable.” He said the charges were completely politically motivated and “part of a deep conspiracy against [Zia].”

Bangladesh executed a top Islamist leader for crimes committed during the war of independence from Pakistan in 1971. Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said Motiur Rahman Nizami, 73, leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was hanged 11 May 2016 inside Dhaka central jail. A tribunal set up to investigate atrocities committed during the nine-month war more than 40 years ago convicted Nizami in 2014 on eight counts, including mass murder and arson.

Police arrested thousands of people in mid-June 2016 in a crackdown on the violence that has targeted over 30 victims in Bangladesh since early 2015, including bloggers, gay rights activists, Christians and Hindus. Islamic State extremists have claimed responsibility for more than 20 of the killings. Despite IS claims, Bangladesh authorities continue to insist there are no foreign terror groups operating in the country. Instead, they blame home-grown militants - and in some cases the political opposition - for the violence.

By 15 June 2016 police had arrested nearly 150 suspected militants and more than 11,000 others as part of a crackdown after a wave of brutal killings. Police said that most of the suspected militants were members of the banned Islamist group Jama'atul Mujahedin Bangladesh [JMB]. The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party [BNP] said the raids were designed to detain its leaders and workers. It said some 2,100 party leaders and activists were arrested.

An Islamist militant suspected of attacking a publisher in 2015 was arrested 16 June 2016, in what police described as an important breakthrough in their investigation into the recurrent horrific attacks plaguing Bangladesh. Sumon Hossain Patwari, 20, was accused of being involved with a brutal attack on publisher Ahmed Rashid Tutul and two writers who were shot and stabbed by three men in the office of the Shudhdhoswar publishing house in Dhaka in October 2015. Police say Patwari was a member of the Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), a banned Bangladesh militant outfit.

Former Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia was sentenced 08 February 2018 to five years in prison on corruption charges. The 72-year-old Zia received the verdict Thursday in a courtroom in the capital, Dhaka. She was convicted of embezzling up to $250,000 from a trust fund dedicated to an orphanage during her tenure as prime minister from 2001-2006. The 72-year-old Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader, held in a special jail, consistently dismissed the charges as politically motivated. Violence erupted in cities across Bangladesh after the guilty verdict as BNP supporters clashed with police and ruling party activists.

Bangladesh's Supreme Court on 19 March 2018 halted the release of opposition leader Khaleda Zia on bail, deepening a political crisis ahead of a national election due in December. The top justices suspended a lower court's decision to grant Zia bail until May, prompting a sharp reaction from her lawyers who said it was part of a campaign by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to silence the opposition. The conviction bars Zia, the head of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, from running in the next national elections set for December.

Street protests began after two teenage students were run over and killed by a bus speeding down Dhaka's Airport Road on July 29. Since then, thousands of students have taken to the streets, with some even controlling traffic. The demonstrators, mostly students in their mid-teens, blame the government for failing to enforce traffic laws. More than 100 people were injured in clashes with police in the Jigatala neighborhood on 04 august 2018, with witnesses saying that officers had fired rubber bullets and tear gas at demonstrators. They also reported that alleged pro-government activists had attacked protesting students. The Awami League has denied allegations that its supporters had inflicted violence on the protesters.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on 05 August 2018 urged the protesters to go home, and authorities had reportedly shut down mobile internet services in much of the country in an apparent bid to slow down protest mobilization and the spread of material that could cause further public outrage. According to police, some 3,000 people are killed every year on Bangladesh's roads. But that figure is disputed by the private organization Bangladesh Commuters' Welfare Association, which says at least 7,397 people were killed in road accidents in 2017. The protests over Bangladesh's transport regulations, which are widely seen as lax and corrupt, are also feeding into more general anger at the government's management of the country.

Bangladesh's Election Commission on Sunday allowed Jamaat-e-Islami, a crucial ally of jailed former prime minister Khaleda Zia's Opposition BNP, to contest the 30 December general elections, two months after it scraped the fundamentalist party's registration. The Jamaat will contest from 25 seats of the 300 seats in the parliamentary polls with 'sheaf of paddy', the electoral symbol of the BNP.

The Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh (JeI-B), with its cadre depth in the countryside, catapulted to center stage as a partner of the Jatiya Oikya Front. The JeI-B is not contesting the election as the party was de-registered in 2013. A high court bench in 2013 declared Jamaat's registration with the EC illegal on a writ petition filed by several Islamic groups, saying the party's ideology was contrary to Bangladesh's Constitution. The JeI-B’s participation is a cause for worry for both the Awami League and India as it has put down roots in Pakistan. The hardline Islamist party, however, is now in a dilapidated state with most of its senior leaders executed in the past five years after being convicted by special tribunals on 1971 war crimes charges.

The US State Department has expressed its disappointment over the Bangladesh government’s “inability to grant credentials and issue visas” to a group of election observers for the Dec 30 election. In a statement issued 22 Deecember 2018, it said they are “disappointed by the government of Bangladesh’s inability to grant credentials and issue visas within the timeframe necessary to conduct a credible international monitoring mission to the majority of international election monitors from the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), which the United States funded through the National Democratic Institute.”

“In the lead up to any democratic election there must be space for peaceful expression and assembly; for independent media to do its job covering electoral developments; for participants to have access to information; and for all individuals to be able to partake in the electoral process without harassment, intimidation, or violence. We encourage the government of Bangladesh to uphold its commitment to a democratic process by ensuring all Bangladeshis are free to peacefully express themselves and participate in December 30 election.”

The country's 11th general election came amid opposition allegations that thousands of its leaders and activists had been arrested to weaken them. But authorities said the arrests are not politically motivated and the opposition is trying to create chaos ahead of elections. It's common for the incumbent party to exploit the election commission, security forces and other state institutions for its partisan purposes and making sure that it emerges victorious in the polls.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina secured a fourth term after her ruling party clinched a landslide victory in Sunday's general election. The country's election commission announced on 31 December 2018 that Hasina's Awami League had won 259 of the contested 300 seats in parliament. The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, or BNP, won 5 seats. By another count, out of the total 299 seats contested, the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's AL party won a whopping 288 seats. That's about 96 percent of all the seats contested. Hasina told reporters that she believes the people will support the government's development projects. She expressed her intention to push ahead with the support of other countries to achieve further economic growth.

Meanwhile, the opposition alliance led by BNP has issued a statement demanding a fresh vote. It claims Sunday's polls were rigged. The opposition camp also accused the ruling party of persecuting its members. It says police have detained over 11,000 opposition members since November. Authorities said at least 13 people were killed and more than 200 injured in clashes between government and opposition supporters.

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Page last modified: 31-12-2018 18:41:08 ZULU