Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hasina’s party wins in Bangladesh poll

Hasina’s party wins in Bangladesh poll
By Tom Felix Joehnk in Dhaka

Source: Financial Times
August 5, 2008

Elections held under a state of emergency declared by Bangladesh’s military to purge corruption from the political system have been judged to be the fairest ever, though most posts were won by candidates backed by one of the country’s traditional party machines.

The Awami League, the party of Sheikh Hasina Wajed, former prime minister, celebrated as its candidates won 12 of 13 mayoral races. At least two of its candidates, Badaruddin Kamran in Sylhet and Ramzan Ali in Manikganj, had campaigned from jail.

Their success effectively dashed government hopes that people would vote for candidates with no criminal charges pending against them, in these first polls held since the military installed a civilian government in January 2007.

The voting won the backing of observers, particularly for the success of the election commission in purging some 12 million duplicate, deceased or otherwise bogus names from voter rolls. “We are looking forward to Sheikh Hasina leading the [Awami] party into the next parliamentary election,” said Saber Hossain Chowdhury, a senior league leader. He added that the main message of the election was that people wanted an “elected, political government”.

Sheikh Hasina has been charged with corruption and is being tried in absentia. She was released on two months’ bail on medical grounds in early June, and is currently in Washington.

Party leaders had not expected her to return before a medical appointment in the first week in September, and the government on Tuesday extended her bail until September 6.

Her bitter rival, former prime minister Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, remains in jail on corruption charges and said at the weekend that she would not accept an apparent offer by the government to release her, unless it also freed her son, Tarique Rahman, who was also detained in the anti-corruption drive.

The successful local polls are unlikely to resolve Bangladesh’s political deadlock. A major sticking point is the government’s plan to hold non-party elections in 465 upazilas, the lowest level of government administration, before parliamentary elections in December.

The main political parties have fiercely opposed these local elections because they would transfer significant powers, including control of development spending, away from those parties’ members of parliament.

ATM Shamsul Huda, chief election commissioner, said he saw “no problem” in holding parliamentary elections under a state of emergency. Western government have demanded the measure be lifted ahead of the vote.

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