Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hasina (and Democracy) Return to Bangladesh

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hasina (and Democracy) Return to Bangladesh

Article excerpt

Bangladesh ended two years of rule by a military-backed caretaker government when it voted in a new government Tuesday. An alliance led by former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Awami League clinched a two-thirds majority in Parliament, trouncing her archrival Khaelda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The elections, postponed since January 2007 after months of political turbulence, had a 70 percent turnout rate. They are being hailed by civil rights groups as Bangladesh's return to democracy. "People have spoken for a change for the better," says Prof. Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of the Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD), a Dhaka-based think tank. "This is the start of a new era in Bangladesh." The real test now, say analysts, is whether BNP supporters will accept their resounding defeat. Bangladesh has witnessed violence in previous elections, which paralyzed life in the country and scared investors away from this impoverished nation of 144 million people. After its latest defeat, the BNP filed a complaint with Bangladesh's Election Commission claiming that voting irregularities and ballot rigging had occurred in 220 polling stations across 72 constituencies. Bangladesh's chief election commissioner, Shamsul Huda, defended the election as free and fair. The election commission had drawn up a computerized list of 81 million registered voters for this election and purged 11 million fake voters from the roll, he said. "The voting was arranged in such a way that there is no scope for rejecting the result," he told reporters. "About 1,500 foreign and 200,000 local observers were monitoring the whole election process, and there is no reason for anyone to complain." The Jamaat-e- Islami, the BNP's key ally in the four-party alliance, won only two seats in this election, down from 17 seats in the 2001 election. The public rejection of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a political party denounced by many secular-minded Bangladeshis for promoting radical Islamic ideals, sends a strong statement, political analysts say. …

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