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Bangladesh’s farcical vote: A move towards authoritarian state

Shakhawat Hossain
 
On Dec. 30, 2018, Bangladesh held its 11th national election since becoming independent in 1971. The questionable results ended in a sweeping victory for the ruling Bangladesh Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina. The AL-led coalition secured 288 out of 300 seats in Parliament, ostensibly winning more than 90 percent of the popular vote. The coalition of the principal opposition party, the Jatiya Oikya Front and its major partner   Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), won a mere eight seats. The results ensured a third term in office for the Awami League.
Full Story
Shakhawat Hossain
 
On Dec. 30, 2018, Bangladesh held its 11th national election since becoming independent in 1971. The questionable results ended in a sweeping victory for the ruling Bangladesh Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina. The AL-led coalition secured 288 out of 300 seats in Parliament, ostensibly winning more than 90 percent of the popular vote. The coalition of the principal opposition party, the Jatiya Oikya Front and its major partner   Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), won a mere eight seats. The results ensured a third term in office for the Awami League.
“That kind of margin of victory — 96 percent — was a result one might expect in a place like North Korea, not a democratic nation such as Bangladesh,” says a foreign media just after the polls.
Another media questioned the polls as saying, “With the opposition sidelined and the ruling party having secured five more years of rule through highly questionable means, Bangladesh has become something closely approximating a one-party state.”
“What happened on December 30 clearly shows that Bangladesh has officially become a one-party state of an exotic variety, where elections take place, yet votes are not properly counted; where numerous opposition parties are allowed to exist, but are effectively rendered impotent and barred from ever reaching power; and where the raucous media are “free” but are only able to produce a self-censored cacophony of government-approved narratives,” says Aljazeera. 
“The embarrassingly skewed tally suggested that the BNP was not really the biggest loser. The biggest loss was for democracy itself,” opines the Economist. 
The 11th parliamentary election was inclusive but again failed to meet the people’s expectations. Despite the participation of all political parties, its one-sided image prevailed.  Throughout the campaign, the political opposition faced a surfeit of cases and attacks. Even so, the main opposition gave an impression that the situation would take a turn on voting day and the election would take place with much festivity and enthusiasm.
However, almost immediately after the results were announced, a host of foreign and domestic analysts pointed out that the election was far from free or fair. Their misgivings were warranted. At least 20 people were killed in election-related violence, many others were injured, and there were widespread allegations of voter intimidation.
According to various news reports, there were no opposition polling agents in various booths across the country. The opposition alleged that the ruling AL’s supporters forced opposition polling agents to leave booths. In addition, many opposition voters were scared to interact with members of the media standing outside the booths because AL supporters were listening to what voters were saying to reporters. A BBC correspondent reported that ballot boxes in Chittagong were filled before the polls opened, which is a serious allegation, raising questions about whether it was a free and fair process. 
Besides, a woman was also gang rapped for casting her vote for the main opposition group on December 30. Police said medical examination of the woman has confirmed sexual assault and police said they were also investigating complaints of threats against her family following the arrests over the past few days. The woman’s husband told Reuters that a group of 10-12 men barged into their house in the southeastern district of Noakhali on the night of the election, tied up him and his four children inside the house, and raped her outside one by one. The husband said she was raped because she voted for the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party. “We could not do anything,” the husband said from her hospital bedside, adding that he had received threats on his phone to withdraw the complaint with police.
The Awami League has, of course, dismissed the charges of electoral malfeasance and instead suggested that the opposition is solely to blame for its anemic performance. Hasina’s government argued that it received such a sweeping mandate because it had delivered steady economic growth during its two terms in office. Furthermore, party stalwarts accused the opposition of precipitating electoral violence.
Unsurprisingly, officials have also rejected the opposition’s request for new elections. In reality, other than getting the Electoral Commission to look into some complaints about irregularities, the opposition has few options to redress its grievances.
Meanwhile, a feast was arranged at police headquarters in Dhaka recently for police stationed all over the country, to celebrate their successful performance in holding a parliamentary election of ‘international standards’.  Although the Election Commission (EC) did not claim the polls to be ‘international standard’, they arranged a ‘pitha’ festival for having held a ‘successful’ election.
The commission arranged the festival amid tight security at a time when the opposition parties planned to submit an official complaint to the commission, rejecting the 30 December poll results and demanding fresh voting.  Even the commission’s top bureaucrats were seen merrily fishing in the pool at the office complex.
When the representatives of the winning party went to the commission to thank the officials, the officials asked for some privileges to the new government. It is not clear if these can be called their demands or favours.
Now, there is a clear agreement among these analysts that democracy of Bangladesh is the biggest loser and the country has entered into a one-party state.
JOF demands fresh polls.
Immediately after the election hour, the main opposition alliance Jatiya Oikya Front on December 30 demanded immediate fresh general election under a non-party government rejecting the results of the day’s 11th parliamentary elections.
Front chief Dr Kamal Hossain, flanked by top alliance leaders, made the demand giving primary reaction to the Bangladesh elections at his Baily road house in Dhaka at about 8:00pm while over 400 candidates of different political parties boycotted the elections halfway through the polls alleging unprecedented election rigging and intimidation across the country.
Kamal Hossain, also the Gono Forum president, said that the opposition alliance rejected the ‘so-called’ results of the elections.
He said that they received reports of similar incidents of ‘vote robbery’ from almost all constituencies and over 100 of their candidates of and many candidates of different political parties boycotted the polls.
Earlier in the day, 299 candidates of Islami Andolan Bangladesh collectively, about 100 Oikya Front candidates individually, 26 Jamaat candidates, including 24 nominated by the BNP-led alliance, Ershad-led Jatiya Party presidium member Shunil Shuvo Roy and several other independent candidates boycotted the polls. They alleged that ruling Awami League activists beat their polling agents and forced them to leave the polling station, took control of the polling stations and stuffed ballot boxes with stamped ballots with the support of the polling and presiding officers and law enforcers.
Jamaat secretary general Shafiqur Rahman in a statement said that all of its 26 candidates boycotted the elections.  
 
Voting was made meaningless: LDA and Islami Andolon 
Voting was meaningless in the 11th national election as it was well orchestrated by Awami League to get the desired outcome, Left Democratic Alliance (LDA) on January 3, 2019. The left-leaning party alliance said this at a rally at the Jatiya Press Club in the afternoon.
Demanding re-election under a neutral caretaker government, they said public opinion has not been reflected in the “over-managed” election. Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) central committee member Ruhin Hossain Prince said polling centres were taken over by the ruling party activists across the country since early morning on the election day and opposition polling agents were not allowed in or were driven away.
 
Ganosamhati Andolon boycotts polls
Islami Andolan submit memo to president seeking re-election
Islami Andolan Bangladesh on Wednesday handed over a memorandum to president Abdul Hamid seeking his intervention for cancellation of the results of 11th parliamentary polls and holding a fresh election soon. Five representatives of the party handed over the memorandum to the president’s press secretary Joynul Abedin at Bangabhaban. Islami Andolan, which fielded highest number of candidates in 298 constituencies with the party’s hand-fan symbol, alleged that the ruling Awami League had rigged 30 to 70 per cent ballots in each of the polling centres before the polls began.
 
TIB detects  the mal  practices
Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has found evidences of vote rgging in 47 out of 50 constituencies the anti-corruption watchdog monitored during the holding of 30 December parliamentary polls.
TIB has observed that the law enforcement and the administration had collaborated with the process through participation or silence.
It has suggested that there should be a “judicial inquiry” into the massive irregularities committed in the 11th national elections.
Ballot boxes were stuffed in 33 constituencies in the previous night before the election while 41 constituencies saw casting of fake votes at the polling stations, according to TIB’s report titled ‘Overview of 11th parliamentary elections’ published at its office on Tuesday.
In the 50 constituencies that the TIB used as sample for reporting quality of the elections, it was found that the administration and law enforcers played a “silent role” in 42 constituencies during the voting. The voters were restricted or driven out of the polling stations in 21 constituencies, the TIB report pointed out.
“In many cases, the voters couldn’t cast their votes freely,” TIB executive director Iftekharuzzaman said at the launch of the preliminary report.
“The law enforcement agencies, a section of officials of the administration and election officials behaved in a biased manner during the elections. This is a gross violation of law, devoid of any ethics.”
 
CEC hits out at TIB for calling general elections ‘controversial
Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda has come down heavily on the Transparency International Bangladesh or TIB report on the 11th parliamentary election. “We are rejecting the TIB report outright,” the CEC told reporters after an event in Dhaka on Wednesday. “Because, though they [TIB] complained of irregularities, we did not receive any information on irregularities from the media, polling officers, magistrates and law-enforcing agencies, who were on the ground on the voting
Election commissioner Rafiqul Islam also dismissed the TIB findings, saying that it is imaginary and predetermined. “Since TIB calls it, preliminary report, it’s imaginary,” he argued, in his reaction to the TIB report.
 
UN calls for probe into Bangladesh vote
The United Nations called for an independent and impartial investigation into the December 30 election in Bangladesh in which Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina won a third straight term amid accusations of violence and voting irregularities.
“We urge the authorities to carry out prompt, independent, impartial and effective investigations into all alleged acts of violence and human rights violations related to the elections, with a view to holding accountable those responsible, regardless of their political affiliations,” said the United Nations.
“There are worrying indications that reprisals have continued to take place, notably against the political opposition, including physical attacks and ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests, harassment, disappearances and filing of criminal cases,” the United Nations said.
 
Unhappy donor community
Western governments, including the United States and the European Union, have also condemned the election-day violence and called for an investigation into a range of irregularities.
The US State Department, noting that the United States is Bangladesh’s largest foreign investor and largest single-country market, expressed concern about “credible reports of harassment, intimidation and violence” during the campaign and urged the election commission to work with all sides to address them. The European Union similarly called on Bangladesh to investigate the violence and “significant obstacles” that had “tainted” the campaign and the vote.
Canada says it will continue to work with the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to advance “mutual interests” and has called on authorities to address claims of election irregularities.
A Human Rights Watch report described “a climate of fear extending from prominent voices in society to ordinary citizens,” without any interference by an intimidated judiciary or election commission.
 
Bangladesh Election 2018: What Others Are Saying?
According to The Telegram, the BNP only got seven seats, which is also pretty implausible. After a decade in power, the Awami League is getting arrogant and careless. Bangladesh is now effectively a one-party state in which somewhere around half the population hates and fears the ruling party. For the moment the fear predominates, but sooner or later the Awami League will stumble and the hate will be expressed in actions.
MIHIR Sharma writing in the Economic Times praised Bangladesh and Sheikh Hasina’s government’s performance, but said that the elections could be more transparent. 
He thinks that Sheikh Hasina, like all mortals, will not last forever and unless ‘democratic institutions that have been damaged are restored, Bangladesh could cause regional problems.’ And crisis will cause serious problems for the stability of South and Southeast Asia. 
These expressions also show that the simpler, unipolar South Asia with India dominating is over and India’s own anxiety could influence events elsewhere. With India and China competing robustly, they are anxious if Sino-Indian interests will be affected or not by Bangladesh elections.
 
Bangladesh: end of democracy
“Bangladesh is now effectively a one-party state in which somewhere around half the population hates and fears the ruling party. For the moment the fear predominates, but sooner or later the Awami League will stumble and the hate will be expressed in actions. It would have been better to stick with democracy, even if that meant winning only part of the time,’’ says a post-election report of the Telegram.
“Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina probably didn’t need to cheat to win re-election. So why did she?” Questions NYT
The Editorial Board of The New York Times on January 14 last published an editorial saying that Sheikh Hasina has done marvels for Bangladesh over nearly 10 consecutive years as prime minister. Per-capita income in what was one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world has grown by nearly 150 percent, and the proportion of the population living in extreme poverty has dropped from 19 percent to about 9 percent. All the greater the pity that her achievements have been offset by a precipitous slide toward authoritarianism and an election in which Mrs. Hasina’s party won 288 of the 300 contested seats in Parliament, a preposterous 96 percent rate of victory.
In the weeks and months before the Dec. 30 vote, local and international human rights organizations chronicled a relentless campaign of intimidation, ranging from violence and arrests of opposition candidates and protesters to surveillance and a draconian digital security law that includes prison terms for posting “aggressive or frightening” content.
Referring to an interview given to The New Work Times by Sheikh Hasina in December last, the editorial noted that the prime minister appeared to share the delusion of autocrats everywhere that human rights concerns were peripheral to a developing country’s economic growth. “If I can provide food, jobs and health care, that is human rights,” she said. “What the opposition is saying, or civil society or your NGO’s — I don’t bother with that. I know my country, and I know how to develop my country.”
Then the editorial raised a big question as saying, “But why? Why produce nonsensical election results when polls indicated that Mrs. Hasina would likely have won a fair election handily? Mrs. Hasina’s every achievement will now be tainted by her authoritarian methods and repressive measures; her critics, driven into exile or underground, will become only more strident, and her foreign supporters more wary.”
The strong editorial concludes as says, “Given Mrs. Hasina’s political and personal trajectory, she is unlikely to be moved by such admonitions. But it is incumbent on countries doing business with Bangladesh and cheering its rise from poverty to remind her and her allies at every turn that human rights are not an imposition of an alien culture, but a critical element of development and progress.”
Earlier, Washington Post on December 31, in an analysis said that the But the results were anything but close: The incumbent prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, and her ruling coalition won 288 out of 300 seats in Parliament.
That kind of margin of victory — 96 percent — was a result one might expect in a place like North Korea, not a democratic nation such as Bangladesh. That is exactly the problem: Hasina, Bangladesh’s increasingly authoritarian leader consolidated her grip on power but at the cost of her own electoral legitimacy.
 
A disputed election and a dangerous new era for Bangladesh’s politics: CNN
Michael Kugelman of CNN on December 30 reported that the disputed election outcome could plunge Bangladeshi politics, already poisoned by bitter and often violently expressed partisanship, into a new and dangerous era. The opposition has every reason to be furious. For several years, the AL has engaged in a systematic campaign to undercut the opposition, if not dismantle it altogether. The crackdown has included scores of arrests. Several top figures, including opposition leader Khaleda Zia, are in jail. 
The AL’s unrelenting campaign of political repression made any idea of a level electoral playing field a farce.
 
India  overwhelmed  by “over-managing” the election
According to an analysis of Economic Times of India published on January 3 said, No wonder her party has been accused of — to put it politely — “over-managing” the election. The polls were, after all, preceded by a long period in which political opponents were intimidated, jailed or exiled. 
It’s hardly surprising that Sheikh Hasina’s party won last week’s elections in Bangladesh. The scale of her victory, however, is literally unbelievable: Her Awami League won all but 10 of Bangladesh’s 298 constituencies. In her own seat of Gopalganj, the prime minister won by 229,539 votes to 123, says the Economic Times.
But seen from India, the way the election has played out is hugely disappointing. For one, Bangladesh has long been held up here as something of a role model in terms of governance: a country that has, unlike India, developed a thriving export sector; a country that, in spite of being resource-poor, has managed to empower its people and especially its women; a country in which the government machinery has displayed a certain humility and pragmatism when it comes to trying and testing various grassroots development solutions.
But, the damage done by the government’s electoral “management” goes far beyond the bilateral relationship with India. Few governments anywhere will celebrate Sheikh Hasina’s reelection under these terms. An illiberal democracy is no less dangerous in the long term just because it happens to be run by a liberal.
The simple truth is that Sheikh Hasina will not rule forever. Nobody can. And if her turn towards authoritarianism also tarnishes, in Bangladeshis’ minds, the Awami League’s principles of secular nationalism and inclusion, then the reaction will be awful indeed — and the implications for the stability of South and Southeast Asia will be even worse. Bangladesh’s prime minister should think of this five-year term as her last and begin to plan for what happens when she eventually turns over power to the opposition, as all democratic leaders must in time. She will have to begin by rebuilding the institutions that her administration has destroyed, concludes the Economic times post-election report on Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, a section in India is also anxious that China will continue to march in in what was traditionally its political backyard of sorts as a result of the elections. To them, China also means ISI — read Pakistan — and Islamists; so, it is worried if the electoral victory serves India or China more.
 
Western countries’ hollow criticism?
Although Western nations condemned election violence in Bangladesh, along with a range of other voting irregularities, experts say that these statements will not be followed by action.
The United States expressed concern on January 1 on the election-day irregularities that prevented some people from voting, as well as on reports of harassment, intimidation, and violence in the pre-election period that made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to campaign freely.
 
EU Observation
The European Union said that violence marred the election-day, and significant obstacles to a level playing field remained in place throughout the process and had tainted the electoral campaign and the vote.
“Violence marred the election day, and significant obstacles to a level playing field remained in place throughout the process and tainted the electoral campaign and the vote,” the EU said in a statement, calling for “a proper examination of allegations of irregularities.”
The US, Bangladesh’s largest foreign investor, expressed concern about “credible reports of harassment, intimidation, and violence in the pre-election period that made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies, and campaign freely.”
However, these statements by Western powers seem to have had no impact on the ruling party as well as Bangladesh’s election commission. The commission shows reluctance to investigate vote rigging claims, citing that no country in the world has rejected the election result. Moreover, a new government has already been formed based on the election outcome.
“The muted reaction of Western countries is surprising. After insisting on a ‘credible election’ these countries’ reactions are somewhat baffling to me,” Ali Riaz, a distinguished professor of political science at Illinois State University in the US, told DW.  “It should also be noted that, unlike India, China and Russia, these countries have refrained from sending congratulatory messages.”
Michael Kugelman from the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars thinks that the international community’s silence following Bangladesh’s questionable election outcome is striking.
“Much of the international community, particularly in the West, views Sheikh Hasina as a responsible world leader who has done her part to contribute to stability,” he told DW. “She has presided over smooth economic growth, cracked down hard on terror, and provided some welcome hospitable treatment to Rohingya refugees,” he said, adding that because of this, much of the world “feels no need” to pay mind to an internal matter like an election. 
David Lewis, a professor of social policy at the London School of Economics, similarly said that many Western countries see Hasina as “offering relative stability” and questioning the election result “would risk more instability.”
 
Economic growth versus one-party state
Bangladesh’s economic potential might be another reason why Western nations have opted to ignore the controversial election result, which has turned the country into a one-party state. There have been significant Western investments in various sectors, particularly in energy and telecommunications.
On top of this, Bangladesh accepted nearly a million Rohingya refugees in 2017 after they fled Myanmar over a military crackdown. Western powers praised Hasina’s welcoming attitude towards those refugees. 
“Not only is the Hasina government providing shelter, but there is also a perception that it has managed to check the potential radicalization of the refugees,” Ali Riaz said.
Dr Norbert Röttgen, the chair of the German parliament’s foreign affairs commission, thinks that European countries haven’t sufficiently voiced their concerns over election irregularities in Bangladesh.
“While on paper European governments have come to the right conclusions, they have not sufficiently voiced their concerns. This is more than regrettable,” Röttgen told DW.
“I believe that both the German government and the opposition parties should ensure that their concerns are heard by those in power in Bangladesh as well as the Bangladeshi people. As democrats, it is our task to show support for their legitimate right to vote,” he said, adding that Europe’s silence on election fraud allegations shows that Europe “doesn’t sufficiently take notice of Asia” as an important region.
“This is a severe strategic shortcoming, which Europe needs to rectify. Doing so should entail vocally speaking up in favor of human rights and democracy within the region,” said Röttgen.
Ali Riaz also thinks that Western countries have a responsibility to take a stand on the voter fraud issue, which ensured a landslide victory for Bangladesh’s ruling party.
“It’s incumbent on the international community to act and ensure that the democratic aspirations of the citizens of Bangladesh are not trampled. They can’t forget that they have a responsibility to uphold the letter and spirit of Article 21 of the Universal Human Rights Declaration,” he said.
 
What lies ahead?
Bangladesh has been gradually sliding back into authoritarianism over the last decade, after experiencing a chaotic democratic moment for about two decades in the 1990s and 2000s, when the country’s two major political parties took turns in power. There were teething pains in that nascent democracy, but people still rejoiced over their rights to elect and change their political leadership, says a Aljazeera report.
What happened on December 30 clearly shows that Bangladesh has officially become a one-party state of an exotic variety, where elections take place, yet votes are not properly counted; where numerous opposition parties are allowed to exist, but are effectively rendered impotent and barred from ever reaching power; and where the raucous media are “free” but are only able to produce a self-censored cacophony of government-approved narratives.
Today in Bangladesh, a party has its own state which has one mission: to maintain the status quo. There are certainly at least two countries that are happy about that status quo remaining - China and India - both of which stand to benefit politically and economically with Hasina in power.
Some Western countries, which have been critical of the Bangladeshi government in the past, have so far refrained from congratulating the winner. However, the Trump administration expressed its willingness to continue working with the new government, which may not mean much for Washington. But in Bangladesh, it is seen as a stamp of approval, boosting Hasina’s legitimacy.
This new wave of oppression will likely keep Bangladesh’s streets quiet, at least in the short term. But the absence of violence should not trick us into thinking the country will settle into authoritarian stability.
A rigged election which effectively sidelined, neutered and humiliated the political centrists in Bangladesh will ultimately swell the ranks of rejectionists of all varieties, including the ones who reject democracy, secularism, and political change through peaceful means. And that does not bode well for the future of the country, concluded the Aljazeera report.
 
Govt for int’l engagement to contain polls criticism
The government would extensively engage with the international community in the next one month to contain criticisms on the December 30 general election marred by reported rigging and intimidation of voters and opposition candidates by the ruling Awami League.  Foreign minister AK Abdul Momen has opened the move with a diplomatic briefing on Thursday organised for ambassadors, high commissioners and chiefs of foreign missions in Dhaka to defend the position of the government and the Election Commission on the situation prevailed during the elections.
Besides, senior government officials believe that Munich Security Conference scheduled for February 15-17 in Germany would be an appropriate platform to face criticism from foreign quarters on election-time environment. Heads of states and governments, defence and foreign ministers and representatives of over 100 countries and chiefs of different international organisations are set to join the conference. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina, also in charge of the defence ministry, is expected to lead the Bangladesh delegation in the conference.
She would also hold meetings with international dignitaries on the sideline of the conference. 
‘Facing criticism with setting outline for future engagements would be the strategy of the new government,’ another senior official said.
Sheikh Hasina would also hold bilateral talks with German chancellor Angela Merkel.  Hasina would convene the first meeting of the new cabinet of the Awami League government on January 21.
In his first tour abroad as foreign minister, AK Abdul Momen would lead a Bangladesh delegation in the meeting of the joint consultative commission with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj in February 7-8.
The foreign ministry held an inter-ministerial meeting on Bangladesh-India joint consultative commission on Wednesday with foreign secretary M Shahidul Haque in the chair. 
Shahidul Haque said that almost all aspects of bilateral relations including trade, security, border management, connectivity, energy cooperation and cooperation on international and multinational platforms would be discussed in the joint consultative commission meeting co-chaired by the two foreign ministers.
Shahidul Haque would also be in Washington for four days in the next week for series of meetings with senior US officials at the White House, the Department of State and the Pentagon.
 
AL pandering to Islamic extremists, and turning the country into an authoritarian state
Finally, it seems that over the course of the past decade or so, the country has seen the genesis of a number of radical Islamist organizations including the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh, the Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, and the Shahadat-e-al-Hikma. In part, they can be traced to a particular strain of Islamic zealotry that has existed within the country’s political culture since independence. Some elements of Bangladesh’s population had been averse to the country’s separation from Pakistan on religious grounds. They had remained deeply disaffected with the political mainstream and the country’s adoption of a secular constitution. Subsequently, the trial and execution of some collaborators with the Pakistan Army during the 1971 crisis also animated these religious zealots.

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 PROPOSED DIALOGUE 
It is not clear what it wants to achieve
Faruque Ahmed
 
The government move to hold a post-election dialogue with leaders of all political has come rather as a big surprise following a landslide victory in election winning over 96 percent of the seat in parliament. The offer has also raised question about the motive behind the move at a time the opposition is blaming the government for ‘stealing’ of the election outcome using law enforcers and other administrative machineries of the government.
Full Story
Faruque Ahmed
 
The government move to hold a post-election dialogue with leaders of all political has come rather as a big surprise following a landslide victory in election winning over 96 percent of the seat in parliament. The offer has also raised question about the motive behind the move at a time the opposition is blaming the government for ‘stealing’ of the election outcome using law enforcers and other administrative machineries of the government.
Many wonder what prompted the government to call for a post-election dialogue with the political parties; it remained shrouded with mysteries. What it aims to achieve?  We don’t have a high quality democracy in which the newly elected Awami League government can be expected to call for a dialogue for consensus building on major national issues. Democracy is dying and in the sick bed and if there is a need for dialogue, many believe it must start from a new election again.   
Most people believe it may aim at stealing public attention from growing criticism over the election fraud. But will be able to remove the mistrust and public misgiving increasingly damaging the government image at home and abroad is the big question. 
Top Awami League leaders such as the party general secretary Obaidul Qader and Prime Minister’s political adviser HT Imam were debating last week on whether it will be a dialogue on core issues to win opposition trust or a post-election meeting of the Prime Minister to exchange greetings with other party leaders following her spectacular victory. 
Again will it work given the torture and deprivation that the opposition parties were to subjected to in election. It caused almost total disappearance of the opposition in parliament.  
BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir last week asked Obaidul Quader to firstly apologise publicly for committing the offence of “vote rigging” in the just concluded election.  “Now, that they are  unable to handle the fall out of such a major rigging...  I ask Mr Quader to go to a stadium and apologise to the nation for resorting to blatant lies and deceiving people’” he said adding a path may be created for discussions if they apologise and agree to hold a fresh election. 
Many believe the offer for dialogue not only highly misleading. It may also take aim at Oikyafront/BNP leaders to try to create a split and secure a break up of Gonoforum leader Dr Kamal Hossain with BNP on Jamaat issue. The move may also try to lure as many BNP leaders to join the ruling party and its MPs elect to take oath and join parliament. Political observers believe the nation needs a strong opposition and any move to liquidate BNP will backfire at the end. 
The emergence of Dr Kamal Hussain as the top opposition leader is embarrassing for Awami League leaders who was once a top leader of the party and close confident of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujubur Rahman. His presence in the opposition has helped BNP to consolidate the party as a major force to throw challenge to Awami League and increase its image at all levels.     
Oikyafront leaders say their priorities are not dialogue. They want to stand by the party leaders and workers at the moment who suffered serious torture during election. They are now visiting districts and trying to help those in jail or receiving treatment in hospitals for injuries in election clashes.  They said the offer of dialogue will only become meaningful if it will address their core demand for fresh election that they don’t recognize.     
Meanwhile an editorial in The New York Times on Bangladesh last week has come as a highly critical evaluation of Awami League’s landslide victory in election. It lavishly praised Sheikh Hasina for her spectacular success in poverty eradication and economic development. The globally read newspaper however raised question as to why she had tainted the election she could easily win given the economic success of her government in the past 10 years. 
Why she went for a nonsensical election when pre-polls results indicated she was likely to win a fair election handily, the editorial said. “Mrs. Hasina’s every achievement will now be tainted by her authoritarian methods and repressive measures, it said. 
Some global organizations have even termed the government in Bangladesh as a ‘high breed regime’ far from a democratic one or even it is far from a faulty democracy. In fact the growing authoritarian system is destroying all democratic institutions which are so important to protect citizens’ rights and ensure the rule of law. It needs multiparty democracy; not one party rule.
Transparency International, Bangladesh in a post-election review of the election method and its results raised serious question over the entire election process. In a random sample survey covering 50 constituencies it said electoral irregularities like stamping ballot papers the night before the polls and ballot stuffing by capturing booths on the election-day took place in 47 of them.  
The study found ballot boxes were filled-up before polling even began in 20 constituencies; voters forced to cast ballots for a particular symbol in 26 constituencies, casting of fake votes in 41 seats, silence of the administration and law enforcing agencies in 42 seats and obstructing and driving out polling agents in 29 seats.
It suggests almost the entire election process was marred with vote rigging. Law enforcers and administrative officials were silent spectators. They allowed casting fake votes, barring voters from going to polling stations, forcing voters to cast vote for a specific symbol and barring polling agents from going to centers.  It termed the election “partially participatory, non-competitive, questionable and faulty” and demanded judicial inquiry into the reported irregularities.
Many believe the government move for the dialogue gained momentum as an escape route from  election fraud.  Oikyafront leaders say the government had also invited the opposition to a dialogue before the election. But it later appeared to be part of the government propaganda as they accepted no major demand such as creating a level playing field and whatever the Prime Minister agreed was totally ignored at the end.   
Meanwhile, Information Minister Dr Hasan Mahmud has slammed the TIB report last week in the city as deliberately “falsified, in favour of the BNP-Jamaat quarter”. He cancelled out the report saying there is no difference between the TIB report and the speech of Oikyafront leaders.  He said no valid research was actually done terming it baseless.
The law minister also slammed the TIB report saying it has no right to dishonor the people, who have cast their votes in the December 30 general election. Obaidul Qader said telling about election fraud is a fairy tale and nobody will buy it.  
Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda also rejected the Transparency International’s report on election irregularities saying is baseless and in the 11th parliamentary polls, also terming the report baseless.  “We are completely rejecting the TIB report on the election. It is baseless,” the CEC told reporters raising question on his credibility. 
He spoke in the same language used by Awami League leaders strengthening public perception that they may have worked together to bring easy victory to the government. Too much good results may have however became embarrassing to the government.

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Climate change induced salinity affecting soil across coastal Bangladesh

United News Bangladesh
 
With the consequence of climate change, it gradually extends towards inland water and soil. This scenario of gradual salinity intrusion into the coastal areas of Bangladesh is very threatening to the primary production system, coastal biodiversity and human health, said researchers.
The total amount of salinity affected land in Bangladesh was 83.3 million hectares in 1973, which had been increased up to 102 million hectares in 2000 and the amount has risen to 105.6 million hectares in 2009 and continuing to increase, according to the country’s Soil Resources Development Institute (SRDI).
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United News Bangladesh
 
With the consequence of climate change, it gradually extends towards inland water and soil. This scenario of gradual salinity intrusion into the coastal areas of Bangladesh is very threatening to the primary production system, coastal biodiversity and human health, said researchers.
The total amount of salinity affected land in Bangladesh was 83.3 million hectares in 1973, which had been increased up to 102 million hectares in 2000 and the amount has risen to 105.6 million hectares in 2009 and continuing to increase, according to the country’s Soil Resources Development Institute (SRDI).
In the last 35 years, salinity increased around 26 percent in the country, spreading into non-coastal areas as well.
“Salinity which is rising in the coastal areas of Bagerhat, a southwestern district, is casting a huge impact on the environment. Production of various crops has declined due to excessive salinity in soil,” advocate Mohiuddin Sheikh, president of Rampal-Mongla Embankment Implementation Committee, told UNB.
Once huge coconut and betel trees were there in the area, but has decreased dramatically, he said adding, “The production of sessional vegetables has also declined. Since the late 80s, the effects of salinity in Rampal and Mongla areas have been hampering the local ecology.”
The locals, however, blame unplanned shrimp cultivation as the main cause of salinity, said the Mohiuddin adding, “Due to decrease in sweet water and fall in saline water flow from the ocean, the salinity has increased in the region.”
Studies conducted by the World Bank, Institute of Water Modelling and World Fish, Bangladesh between 2012 and 2016 have quantified the effects of increasing salinity in river waters in coastal Bangladesh, including the areas in and around the Sundarbans – the world’s largest mangrove forest that straddles the coast of Bangladesh and India.
The broad categories of climate change effects that hit the coastal areas of Bangladesh are changes in temperature and rainfall pattern, sea-level rise, change in frequency and intensity of cyclones, storm surge, changes in river and soil salinity.
More alarmingly, researchers from the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research Bangladesh (icddr,b) have noticed an unexpectedly high rate of miscarriage in a small village of Chakaria, near Cox’s Bazaar, on the east coast of Bangladesh.
As they investigated further, scientists reached the conclusion that climate change might to be blamed.
Khulna region member of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) MA Savur Rana, a resident of Singarbunia village in Rampal upazila, said, “Once farmers used to harvest Aman (a paddy season) paddy in vast croplands of their areas. But, due to excess salinity, Aman paddy has become extinct.”
This has caused a huge impact on the lifestyle of the local people, he mentioned.
Between 2012 and 2017, the icddr,b scientists registered 12,867 pregnancies in the area they have been monitoring for last 30 years. They followed the pregnant women through until the end of the pregnancy and found that women in the coastal plains, living within 20km of the coastline and 7m above sea level were 1.3 times more likely to miscarry than women who live inland.
This difference, the scientists believe, is to do with the amount of salt in the water the women drink — the increase of which is caused by climate change.
Another recent study conducted by the World Bank indicates that climate change will cause significant changes in river salinity in the southwest coastal region during the dry season (October to May) by 2050, will likely lead to shortages of drinking and irrigation water and cause changes in aquatic ecosystems.
Changes in river salinity and the availability of freshwater will affect the productivity of fisheries. It will adversely affect the wild habitats of freshwater fish and giant prawn. In addition, the salinity increase may induce a shift in the Sundarbans mangrove forest from Sundari (the single most dominant and important species, with the highest market value) to Gewa and Guran.
Estimates from the research indicate that Bagerhat, Barguna, Barisal, Bhola, Khulna, Jhalakati, Pirojpur, and Satkhira districts will be affected most adversely.
This study also identifies soil salinisation in coastal Bangladesh as a major risk from climate change. In the coming decades, soil salinity will significantly increase in many areas of Barisal, Chittogram and Khulna districts. It projects a median increase of 26 percent in salinity by 2050, with increases over 55 percent in the most affected areas.
Due to the rise in soil salinity, Chittagong and Khulna districts are likely to witness the highest within-district additional migration, estimated between 15,000 and 30,000 migrants per year, said another study titled “Coastal Climate Change, Soil Salinity, and Human Migration in Bangladesh”, jointly conducted in 2018 by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Ohio State University.
“These two districts also contain the second and third largest cities in the country. Districts without large cities like Bagerhat, Bhola and Feni will generally expect smaller within-district flows, between 5,000 and 15,000, but larger out-of-district flows, particularly to districts with large cities,” said Ohio State University’s Joyce Chen, the co-authored of the study.
Meanwhile, after two weeks of bruising negotiations, officials from almost 200 countries on December 15 agreed on universal, transparent rules that will govern efforts to cut emissions and curb global warming.
The deal agreed upon at UN climate talks in Poland enables countries to put into action the principles in the 2015 Paris climate accord.
But to the frustration of environmental activists and some countries who were urging more ambitious climate goals, negotiators delayed decisions on two key issues until next year in an effort to get a deal on them.
The talks in Poland took place against a backdrop of growing concern among scientists that global warming on Earth is proceeding faster than governments are responding to it.

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Foreigners’ entry into Rohingya camps restricted

Special Correspondent
 
Entry of foreigners foreigners’ entry into the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar has been restricted fearing that they might radicalise Rohingya youths in the name of providing humanitarian aid.
It has been alleged that a number of foreigners are visiting various Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar hiding their identities to radicalise the Rohingya youths to commit various ‘crimes’, according  to a report  published  in  a Dhaka daily  quoting  sources in the home ministry and the intelligence agencies.
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Special Correspondent
 
Entry of foreigners foreigners’ entry into the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar has been restricted fearing that they might radicalise Rohingya youths in the name of providing humanitarian aid.
It has been alleged that a number of foreigners are visiting various Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar hiding their identities to radicalise the Rohingya youths to commit various ‘crimes’, according  to a report  published  in  a Dhaka daily  quoting  sources in the home ministry and the intelligence agencies.
According to the sources, local district administration and law-enforcement agencies are urging the authorities concerned, especially the department of passport and immigration, to take stern measures over issuing visa-on-arrival facility and tourist visas to the foreigners visiting the Rohingya camps.
Additional superintendent of police of Cox’s Bazar Mohammad Iqbal Hossain has told media that they have restricted foreigners’ entry to the Rohingya camps.
“As far as I know no foreigners have entered any Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazaar in the last one month,” he said.
“We’ve received a number of allegations against some foreigners. They have held secret meetings with some Rohingya people hiding their identities for motivating the Rohingyas on various issues,” he added.
“We have detained some foreigners from the Rohingya camps a few months ago and freed them later,” he informed.
According to an intelligence report, an advocate named Rajiya Sultana has opened an NGO named Rohingya Women Welfare Association (ROWWA) at the Kutupalong Rohingya camp on July 12 and she provides Tk three lakh to run the NGO in the name of humanitarian assistance.
She recruited as many as 25 Rohingya youths as volunteers to run the organisation and she is motivating the Rohingyas inside the camps to do unruly activities, the report says.
Avedeev Sergei, a Russian citizen bearing passport no. 9227124 and another Russian citizen Advee Aleksander (passport no-9226732) have visited a Rohingya camp hiding their real identities in Cox’s Bazar and they met seven Rohingyas. Both landed in the country after they were given visas on arrival.
The intelligence report has mentioned a number of foreigners, such as British-Bangladeshi citizens Mohammad Areeb Ullah, Kaamil Arzumand Ahmed and Iqbal Murtuza Khan, Myanmar citizen Sai Soe Lwin and Pakistani-origin Mohammed Shoaib Tariq. They have been frequently visiting the camps and their movements are suspicious, the report has added.
The report states that Mohammed Shoaib Tariq has visited the camps twice through visa-on-arrival facility. It also warns the government that members of foreign intelligence agencies are likely to commit sabotage inside the Rohingya camps. The Rohingya youths can be handpicked by some political parties to destabilise the law and order situation ahead of the next national polls, it states.
After receiving the report, the Public Security Service Division of the home ministry has asked the chiefs of the law enforcement agencies and the ministries concerned to take necessary steps. At least 1,100,000 Rohingya refugees have taken shelter in Bangladesh since August 25, 2017.

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