Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy largely influenced by the British parliamentary system. Executive power is in the hands of the prime minister, who is the head of the cabinet, and who must be a member of the 300-seat Jatiya Sangsad (unicameral parliament). She/he recommends the council of ministers to the president. The president is the constitutional head of state and is elected for a 5-year term by the parliament, but plays a largely ceremonial role. The president can act only on the advice of the prime minister, as the presidential power was significantly reduced in accordance with constitutional changes in 1991. All adult citizens (18 years old and over) are eligible to vote, including women and ethnic minorities. Bangladesh experienced a number of military coups after 1971, and several military governments tried to restrict activities of political parties. However, after the return to civil rule in 1990, all political parties have to function openly in the country. There are a number of political organizations in Bangladesh.
Most prominent of them are: the Awami League (a coalition of 8 parties); the Bangladesh Nationalist Party; the Jatiya Party; and the Jamaat-e-Islami. The Awami League (AL) generally supports more government interventionist policies and has a very cautious attitude towards liberalization or opening of the national economy to international competition; in fact, in the early 1970s the party had strong pro-socialist elements in its economic policy. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which was the ruling party from 1991 until its defeat in the parliamentary election of 1996, is more free-market oriented. The BNP introduced the policy of economic liberalization and privatized some state-owned enterprises. It opened the national economy to international competition in an attempt to attract foreign investors.
For her second tenure, Prime Minister of Bangladesh and leader of the ruling party, Awami League, Sheikh Hasina Wajid won the general elections 2014 in wake of bloodshed due to her dictatorial steps. In this regard, head of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Begum Khaleda Zia who was leading the alliance of the opposition parties protested against the rigging, deliberately practiced by the Awami League, was placed under virtual house arrest during the election-campaign. Earlier, to keep her in power, Prime Minister Hasina Wajid amended the constitution for holding of elections under a non-party set up and the opposition has accused her of manipulating the electoral process to establish one party state. The opposition alliance led by Khaleda Zia did not file nominations for the polls, sticking to their stance of boycotting the elections over the failure of Hasina Wajid to form a neutral interim government. The country’s largest religious party, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) was also banned from taking part in the elections, while to address old grievances of her party, Prime Minister Hasina who was in connivance with the judiciary, hurriedly executed her political opponent, Abdul Qadir Mullah-leader of Jl.
Awami League government under Sheikh Hasina has been squeezing the opposition to new limits. In Jan 2018, “Digital Security Act (DSA)” was approved by the cabinet and after the approval of the President, is likely to be enacted. Proposed DSA is a set of punishment to support ultra Nationalism being pursued by AL. Timing of proposed DSA is crucial as journalists and media persons are demanding repealing controversial Section 57 of Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT) – 2006 termed as draconian section. Notably, more than 700 cases under this controversial Section are under trial. Under growing pressure from the world community and USA, Sheikh Hasina is reported to have inclined to make certain amendments, however, keeping track record of political affairs, such announcement seems a mere political statement.
The DSA is affecting the people’s right to freedom of expression. Moreover, it will impede independent journalism, limit the scope of researchers (particular on the sensitive topic of Liberation War) etc. Sheikh Hasina has been using such draconian and controversial laws against Bangladesh’s Jammat e Islami elements extensively and even executed their leaders for siding with Pakistan. On the other hand, Sheikh Hasina has been using every tactic to keep Mrs Khaleda Zia under pressure. As BNP is currently leading an alliance of around 20 smaller parties, Sheikh Hasina government has unleashed squeezing tactics to cause ruptures in the alliance and forcing desertions/defections within BNP and its allied parties.
It is a fact that since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came into power, India has been employing various tactics to entrap Bangladesh by exploiting her pro-Indian tilt to fulfill its strategic interests. In this context, Prime Minister Hasina Wajid has continuously been pursuing Indian directions by conducting anti-Pakistan campaign. Therefore, after passing of 42 years to the events of 1971, which resulted into the separation of East Pakistan, Abdul Qadir was hanged because of his loyalty to Pakistan. Nonetheless, Indian media and renowned newspapers reported that during the visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to New Delhi, India and Bangladesh signed 22 agreements in the fields of defence cooperation, civil nuclear energy, space and cyber security among others, following bilateral talks between Indian Prime Minister Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart. Both the countries also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) through which India would extend a line of credit of $500 million to support Bangladesh’s defence-related procurements. Bangladeshi newspapers have showed un-easiness among the masses in Bangladesh regarding signing of defense deal between India and Bangladesh. Opposition parties have also criticized the defence deal by saying that Hasina Wajid wants Bangladesh to become a colony of India.
It is mentionable that Bangladesh’s ruling party, under Sheikh Hasina Wajid maintains an anti-Pakistan posture with sinister designs of expressing animosity, antagonism and unrestrained emotional flare-up. The aim is to exploit feelings of masses by keeping the “hate Pakistan” agenda alive. This enables Awami League and Hasina Wajid to remain significant in Bangladesh’s power politics despite their failure to deliver the goods. It also helps them to appease their mentors in India. Using abusive language against Pakistan and its armed forces makes Hasina Wajid relevant in Indian politics, while she herself prefers those entities which derive sadistic pleasure by depicting Pakistan in bad light. For the purpose, Awami League and its leader, Prime Minister Hasina are propagating against Islamabad through a well thought-out media plan in order to spread venom against Pakistan, its armed forces and all those Bangladeshi nationals who were loyal to the state during 1971 crisis. As already stated, hasty execution of death penalty to Abdul Qadir Mullah, political ban on religious parties and exclusion of BNP (opposition party) from power sharing, on jingoistic claims, clearly point at Indo-Bangladesh-Awami League blueprint which itself speaks of their deep seated animosity against Pakistan and its armed forces. Old carriage of woeful accusations and planned insinuations are re-animated to maintain emotional incrimination and revamp intriguing blame game.
Historically, sinister role of Indian establishment in dismemberment of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh needed no proof however, Indian PM Modi’s admittance during his visit to Bangladesh, has confirmed the mischievous Indian role. AL-India nexus has been recently further exposed by Surendra Kumar Sinha, Ex Bangladesh Chief Justice (seen by many as a key ally of Sheikh Hasina and her regime) through his recent memoir “A Broken Dream: Rule of Law, Human Rights and Democracy”. Mr. Sinha candidly admits that India is backing Sheikh Hasina’s autocratic government for own interest. His admittance may prove as a whistleblower for many Bangladeshis who have been waiting for gearing up against the draconian government of Sheikh Hasina. Mr. Sinha was put under house arrest and then forced into exile in late 2017. In his admittance, Mr. Sinha has also revealed that Sheikh Hasina is deliberately supporting/promoting an extremist outfit “Hefazat-e-Islam” led by Moulana Shafito counter Jamaat Islami and other political opponents. “Hefazat-e-Islam” is Bangladesh’s ISIS version. Mr. Sinha even alleges that Sheikh Hasina has a coterie of her military advisers – Major General (retired) Tarique Ahmed Siddique (security adviser), Major General Miah Zainul Abed in (military secretary) and the brigadier generals heading different bureaus of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI).
It may be recalled that Bangladesh has been witnessing increasing activities of extremists and the Bangladeshi government usually blamed Pakistan for fanning extremism. Sheikh Hasina’s coercive approach to opposition parties is unlikely to be supported by any democracy loving country. As the next parliamentary election in the country are scheduled to be held in Jan 2019, opposition parties and alliances are likely to increase their activities and finding a strangulating atmosphere, the country is expected to witness widespread unrest. It is thus advisable for champions of democracy to play their role in revival of real democracy in Bangladesh and persuade Sheikh Hasina to desist from persecution of opposition parties. If democracy is to take stronger root, it needs a conducive political environment. The country’s institutions must be kept free of political influence.