New leader of Bangladesh may take office peacefully Hasina holding talks on forming a government

June 16, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

DHAKA, Bangladesh -- Despite angry protests and threats by some on the losing side, the victory in the general election of the party that led Bangladesh to independence in a civil war 25 years ago appears destined to be accepted without the turmoil and violence that have often marred politics here.

Final results will not be issued until new voting takes place on Wednesday at scattered polling places. But Sheik Hasina Wazed, the 49-year-old leader of the party, the Awami League, has begun discussions on forming a government.

With the party likely to be a few seats short of a parliamentary majority, Hasina has won assurances of support, at least initially, from the party that ran third in the election -- an arrangement that would reflect the complex crosscurrents of a country that has rarely known political peace.

As the daughter of Sheik Mujibur Rahman, who led the struggle for independence from Pakistan and headed the government until he was assassinated in 1975 by rebellious army officers, Hasina has built her political career as a standard-bearer for civilian rule.

But her new government now seems likely to depend on backing from the Jatiya Party, which is the personal political vehicle of one of the generals who usurped power here for a generation.

The Jatiya leader, Hussein Muhammed Ershad, was toppled from power by street protests in which Hasina was a major figure. His apparent willingness to strike a bargain has been signaled from his cell in Dhaka's central prison, where he is serving a lengthy term for corruption.

The 15 years of military rule -- from Mujibur's killing to Ershad's ouster -- was associated with violence, corruption and human rights abuses. But many people think the generals were no worse than Mujibur.

Shortly before he died with 15 family members in a volley of gunfire, Mujibur had declared Bangladesh a one-party state, closed opposition newspapers and established the Awami League's own paramilitary guard.

At least a third of all Bangladeshis voted for the Awami League last week, but many others still harbor deep fears of it.

For many years, Awami's focus has seemed to reduce to one thing: a zeal for revenge against the killers of Mujibur.

While Hasina greeted her victory Thursday by disavowing vengeance, many who remember her in recent years, weeping during interviews in the family home where the killings occurred, showing visitors the bullet holes in books in the library and bloodstains on the staircase where her father died, fear that sustaining magnanimity toward those linked to the killing -- in effect, most of her main rivals -- may prove too much.

Pub Date: 6/16/96

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