Bangladesh Gears Up For 11th General Election
| Ashok Dixit, Editor - Foreign Affairs, IOP - 29 Dec 2018

Bangladesh Gears Up For 11th General Election


By Ashok Dixit

New Delhi/Dhaka, Dec 28, 2018: Bangladesh is all set to hold its 11th general election in 45 years on Sunday and all eyes will be on the ruling Awami League and incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed as both seek a record fifth term in office.

Electoral battle lines have been drawn between the Awami League-led Grand Alliance (consisting of more than 12 political parties) headed by Sheikh Hasina Wajed and the Jatiya Okiya Front-led Opposition alliance ( consisting of more than 20 political parties) that includes former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by Oxford-educated lawyer-turned politician Kamal Hossain.

Over 1800 candidates will be vying for 300 parliamentary seats plus 50 seats that have been reserved for women. They will attempt to convince approximately 10 crore voters to vote for them and the parties that they represent.

Electorally and administratively, Bangladesh consists of eight (8) administrative divisions also known in Bengali as Bibhags namely Barisal (21 seats), Chittagong (58 seats), Dhaka (56 seats), Khulna (36 seats), Mymensingh (38 seats), Rajshahi (39 seats), Rangpur (33 seats) and Sylhet (19 seats).

Each of these Bibhags or divisions are further divided into Zilas or Districts and further divided into Upazilas or Sub-Districts.

The electoral landscape of the past 45 years has been witness to a seesaw contest or battle primarily between the Awami League and the BNP, with both parties having the opportunity to head governments on four separate occasions each. The Awami League headed governments from 1973 to 1979, 1996 to 2001, 2008 to 2014 and 2014-2018. The BNP, on the other hand, headed governments from 1979 to 1986, 1991 to 1996, February to June 1996 and 2001 to 2008. The Jatiya Party led governments in 1986 and 1988.

Campaigning for the general elections and for securing seats in the Jatiya Sangsad (Parliament) has predictably been bitter and violent, albeit to a degree less than what was seen in 2008 and 2014. It ended on Thursday (December 27). 

The ruling Awami League is contesting 260 of the 300-plus seats, fielding new candidates in 49 seats. The Jatiya Okiya Front-led Opposition alliance (JOF) has announced that it will be contesting in 258 seats. Kamal Hossain’s decision to challenge Sheikh Hasina’s continuance in office has credibility, given that at one time he was a major Awami League leader and headed the parliamentary committee that framed the Constitution of Bangladesh immediately after the country’s creation post the Liberation War of 1971 that involved India and Pakistan.

Two factors to be kept in mind when assessing the impact that this December 30 election in Bangladesh will have across South Asia are (1) the sentiment towards ‘Big Brother’ India and (2) Bangladesh’s gradual economic up-scaling from a lower middle income earning country to a growing developing nation.

India historically has had a more comfortable interactive relationship with the Awami League than with the BNP. Some experts are predicting that there could be an anti-India vote transfer of about 30 percent possibly due to the anti-incumbency factor reportedly building up against Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League, which has been in power since January 2008. Others, however, believe that the pro-India sentiment is equally strong and cannot be ignored.

The focus of the Awami League-led Grand Alliance is on its economic achievements over the last decade, wherein per capita income has risen from a paltry USD 543 in 2006 to USD 1751 in 2017-18 as per a United Nations report. The ruling dispensation is also convinced that if it is returned to power, it will deliver ten percent annual GDP growth between 2019 and 2024 and reduce poverty by more than half i.e. from 41 percent at present to 21 percent by 2031.

The JOP has been campaigning on the plank of restoring democracy and the Rule of Law, besides ensuring greater transparency in the appointment of judges and promotion of press freedom. Good governance is the opposition’s mantra for electoral success.

Media in Bangladesh quoted Dr. Kamal Hossain, as saying on Thursday that the nation’s people need to bring about a "vote revolution".

"We won in the past, and we will win this time too. December 30 will be another Victory Day. You will bring about a vote revolution on that day," he was quoted, as saying.

He added, “People's ownership of the country will be restored through the vote revolution. The people of this country (have) never bowed down to arms, money and power.”

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, on the other hand, has urged the people to vote for her party again to continue the course of development.

Addressing election rallies in Cumilla, Jessore, Tangail, Pabna and Panchagarh through video conferencing on Thursday (December 27), she said, “Remain alert to any subversive activity of the BNP and its cohorts.”

 “Only Awami League thinks about country and its development... The nation can see development when the Awami League is in power,” she was quoted, as saying.

She has promised to continue the track of prosperity and development.

“I am giving my word to you that after looking at the lessons from the past, we will engage ourselves to build a bright future for all and will ensure comprehensive development,” she said.

Dhaka Tribune publisher K. Anis Ahmed has, in an article written for the New York Times, said, “Sunday’s election is a contest between two bad options — the continued Authoritarianism of the Awami League and the past record of support for Religious Extremism of the BNP under the umbrella of the Kamal Hossain-led JOP.

There is a belief that voters may not vote for change for the sake of change.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called on all stakeholders to ensure an environment free of violence, intimidation and coercion before, during and after Sunday's general election in Bangladesh.

United States Ambassador to Bangladesh Earl Miller was quoted, as saying, “…all individuals to (must) be able to partake in the electoral process without harassment, intimidation, or violence.”

That veiled caution or warning just about sums it up.

Photo courtesy – Times Now / Arab News / Bangladesh EC

(The writer Ashok Dixit is a senior journalist with 24 years of rich cross-editorial functional experience in covering and reporting on developments in South Asia. He had been associated with ANI as a Senior Editor for more than two decades. He can be contacted

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