The Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s (BNP) decision to drop its demand for the formation of a caretaker government under whose charge parliamentary elections would be held, offers a fresh opportunity to resolve an extended political deadlock. Bangladesh has seen a political crisis since the re-election of the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government in January 2014. The Khaleda Zia-led BNP and other opposition parties boycotted the poll after their demand for elections under a neutral caretaker was rejected. As a result, the election became a one-horse race, raising questions about the government’s democratic credentials. Since then, the BNP and its hardline Islamist ally Jamaat-e-Islami had been fighting street battles. Too often since the authoritarian H.M. Ershad era, Bangladesh has seen political instability due to the game of one-upmanship between the two leading political parties, with election and Parliament boycotts and incessant agitations becoming all too common. Nearly 19 months after the controversial election, perhaps having realised that the non-parliamentary oppositional politics was weakening the party, Ms. Zia indicated that she was ready for a compromise.
The animosity and mistrust between the two main parties have cost Bangladesh dear. While the BNP and the Jamaat resorted to violent protests, the government responded in a determined manner to crush the opposition. Political violence has been steadily on the rise since the last election, while many have criticised the undemocratic bent of the Hasina government. The situation remains volatile with forces opposed to secularism and democracy waiting to grab any opportunity to push their agenda. It is no secret that the Islamists have been aggressively trying to capitalise from the political mess. The Jamaat in particular has been at odds with the Sheikh Hasina government after two of its leaders were hanged for “crimes against humanity” committed during the 1971 Liberation War. Moreover, there was the real danger of the military finding a pretext for another political intervention if the law and order situation had worsened. It is against this background that the BNP has signalled a softening of its position. The Sheikh Hasina government should seize this opportunity and break the impasse, adopting a more conciliatory approach ahead of elections. The BNP should rethink its alliance with the Jamaat, and abandon the tactics it has been resorting to. Reinforcing secular democratic principles, on the basis of which Sheikh Mujibur Rahman led Bangladesh to freedom, should be the way forward. A proper concert of an effective government and an opposition in Parliament is an imperative for a democracy, especially for a fledgling one such as this.
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