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Zafar SobhanSubscribe to Zafar Sobhan

No News Is Good News

As the Awami League-led government in Bangladesh completes its first six months in office, domestic politics is calm on the surface. The current quiet could be due to the disarray among the opposition. But there may be dark clouds looming behind the horizon. One such issue is the construction of the Tipaimukh dam in Manipur. Sharing of water between India and Bangladesh and threats to Bangladesh's resources have together always been an emotive issue and the opposition has been quick to seize on Tipaimukh as an example of a decision by India that is inimical to Bangladesh's interests. That India has not revealed all the details about the dam and its likely impact makes this a potential tinder box.

State of Shock

The aftermath of the uprising by the Bangladesh Rifles in the last week of February poses a major challenge to the two-month old Awami League government of Sheikh Hasina. The government acquitted itself creditably in the crisis, but the civilian government's relationship with the army (which lost dozens of officers in the mutiny) remains tense. A failure to get to the root of the uprising could leave the door open to the forces that wanted to destabilise the newly elected government to strike again.

Another Beginning

Bangladesh has not just survived the last two years of nondemocratic rule, but it has seen democracy return fundamentally strengthened. A democraticallyelected government, with the Awami League in a commanding position, is now in place. The army has not only voluntarily relinquished power but has left the polity in better shape. Empowered with a lot of hope Sheikh Hasina, the AL leader and the new prime minister, is expected to deliver.

Finishing Line in Sight in Bangladesh?

Both the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Awami League need to participate in the elections scheduled for next month, for the process to be credible. The elections are likely to be the fairest ever, but the BNP and its alliance partners have threatened a boycott and if that happens there is likely to be a question mark over the outcome. The intentions of the army are also not clear and there is the possibility of the military retaining significant de facto powers after the polls.

Back to Square One in Bangladesh

The military-backed caretaker government and the army are poised to retreat from the scene after having achieved very few of the objectives they set for themselves in January 2007. In the months remaining until elections are held in December 2008, the two would like to make permanent the changes they have brought about in public institutions and protect themselves from possible prosecution by a future government. Neither is going to be easy. There have been no major reforms within the two leading political parties, so there is the very real possibility of a dysfunctional political order returning to haunt Bangladesh after the elections, whoever may form the government in Dhaka.

New Game in Bangladesh

Amidst the threat of chaos and a bloodbath on the streets of Bangladesh, the army backing for a new caretaker government was welcomed. However, questions are now being asked about some of the decisions the army-backed authorities are taking and no firm date has been set for elections this year. And with the entry of Muhammad Yunus into the political fray, the game has become even more muddied.

Last Man Standing

The political situation in Bangladesh on the eve of elections is at an impasse, with rival political alliances unable to agree on pre-election arrangements. That such a situation is inimical to democratic functioning does not seem to trouble politicians on either side.

Bangladesh: Musical Chairs

Two major recent developments in Bangladesh are likely to have an impact on the upcoming elections. One is the decision of the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party to enter into an understanding with its hitherto sworn enemy, the Jatiyo Party of former president H M Ershad. The other is yet another instance of explosion of public anger against the government, which however, the opposition Awami League has not been able to capitalise on.

Conspiracy Theories in Bangladesh

How much power will a caretaker government in Bangladesh have in the run-up to the elections? With the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Awami League locked in a stalemate in the preparations for polls, this is the subject of considerable speculation in the country.

Game On

An elaborate ritual for arriving at the modalities for the 2007 elections in Bangladesh is being performed by the two main political formations, but neither seems interested in reaching an agreement. With Bangladeshis yearning for stability and security, does the inability of the two groups to engage in constructive debate and come up with substantive solutions open the door to a third force - the army?
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