Vendetta politics in Bangladesh Sham election: Opposition boycott, private motives undermine legitimacy.

March 08, 1996

THERE WERE slayings and other irregularities in Bangladesh's recent election. Yet it was uncontested, with total victory for Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh National Party (BNP) last month.

Opposition leader Sheik Hasina's denunciation of the government has resonance but her call for a caretaker regime will be ignored, as for the most part was her support of a general strike. Some fear the army will take over, but it currently leaves politics to the quarreling women. Meanwhile, stereotypes are shattered.

Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan in 1972 with India's help when the soldier-politician, Sheik Mujibur Rahman, came home from a Pakistan prison. His Awami League swept the election of 1973 and he became prime minister. He was assassinated in a military coup in 1975. Three months later, Maj. Gen. Ziaur Rahman took power, created the BNP and ruled until his own assassination in 1981. The next year, Lieut Gen. Hossain Mohammad Ershad took over. He was hounded from office in 1990 by a popular uprising led by Begum Khaleda Zia, widow of Ziaur Rahman, and Sheik Hasina, daughter of Mujibur Rahman. General Ershad went to prison for corruption.

In a free election in 1991, the BNP won power under Khaleda Zia; the Awami League formed the main opposition under Sheik Hasina. Prime Minister Zia helped free the economy to grow. But after a disputed special election in 1994, the opposition boycotted and turmoil began.

Sheik Hasina denounces the prime minister for protecting her father's assassins, whom she believes were employed by the prime minister's husband. Where the two women had made common cause against General Ershad, Sheik Hasina is now joined in opposition by his wife, Raushan Ershad. Leader of the smaller Jatiya Party, her goal is to get him out of prison.

Bangladesh had begun to share in the Asian economic miracle. But growth is halted by the vendettas paralyzing political life. As one of the poorest and most crowded nations, Bangladesh needs better than it gets from these women leaders, just as it needed better from the strong men whose legacies they perpetuate.

Pub Date: 3/08/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.