Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Countdown to Bangladesh upcoming 'elections' (18-22 December)

This is a rolling blog containing news, commentary, and analysis as Bangladesh's 'election' day, due to take place on 5 January 2014, approaches. To provide information, tips or analysis please e-mail: or tweet at @davidbangladesh.

This page relates to 18-22 December. 
To see page dealing with 30 December onwards.
To see page relating to 23-29 December onwards



10.01 pm: A moment on public opinion .... and the spectre of 'fascism'
With the Awami League or its allies about to win close to, if not in fact, 100 percent of the seats in the new parliament, it is worth while taking a look at what the opinion polls have said - though there have not been any very recent ones published that I know about.

I have written a number of articles and posts on these - and the links for these are at the bottom of this page. Jyoti Rahman however has mapped on a chart the 14 polls that have been published since just before the government came to power in January 2009. He concludes:

As of October 2013, the trend lines suggest that BNP was expected to get 45% votes against the AL’s 36%. Extrapolating this to December, and the numbers are 47% BNP vs 39% AL. 
Of course, given our first past the post voting system, with 47% votes, BNP would likely have won many more than 47% of seats. 
Now this analysis does not include one poll the most recent one done by MRC Mode Ltd. I cant say why Jyoti did not include this poll, but there were  obviously some difficulties with it: there were two sets of 'analysts' who each agreed on different results - one in which the AL was 6 percent up (the Awami League) and one which showed the BNP was 3 percent up (independent statisticians): and the poll was not entirely 'independent' unlike all the others involving a firm owned by an Awami League MP, and was done for the AL.

Jyoti had published this analysis earlier, so there is nothing much new in it, but I thought I should highlight his last section - which has nothing to do with statistics - which is new.
How representative will a parliament be where BNP is not represented? I wonder if it would be a stretch to compare this election with the one held in the occupied Bangladesh in 1971. 
In 1971, when the al-Badr and al-Shams were carrying out their atrocities, their Pakistani masters also held elections in the seats vacated by the “outlawed” Awami League. The Pakistanis got 55 collaborators elected unopposed. What’s the Bangla word for irony? 
When this was being written, there were many fiery online discussions and many TV talking heads frothing at the mouth about those dastardly Pakistanis who were questioning our quest for justice in their parliament. 
Is it ironic that the Pakistani parliament is actually a genuinely elected one? It’s a fascist regime – that’s a common refrain in Bangladesh. Every opposition party in our history has accused the government of being fascist. And every opposition in the past has been wrong. Until now. Fascism doesn’t mean any odd dictatorship or undemocratic regime. Mere intolerance of the opposition is not enough to be fascist. 
To be a fascist regime, a government needs a large enough popular base, a cult of personality, and a dogma/ideology which is going to be invoked by academics and intelligentsia to support the regime. The 1/11 or Ershad regimes were not fascist – they had none of these ingredients. Baksal had the cult of personality, ideology and intellectual cheerleaders. 
Had Sheikh Mujib instituted Bakshal in 1972, he would also have had massive popular support. But by 1975, it was too late. BNP in 2001 had the popular support to become fascist. But for all its manifold mistakes, it wasn’t fascist because there was no ideology or intellectual support. 
The AL is still popular enough, has a sufficiently coherent ideology and a cult of personality, and a very strong intellectual support base. When Ershad or BNP stepped over the line in terms of censorship or rigged election or sheer decency (think about Mrs Zia’s birthday celebration), there were massive outcries. 
Nothing like that has happened under the current government because those who are supposed to protest are all on the same side as the government. All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing – said Edmund Burke. 
As I write this, for far too many otherwise sensible intelligent people, what Imran Khan says in an elected parliament in Pakistan causes more anger than the lack of an elected parliament in Bangladesh. And that’s why, dear reader, for the first time in our history, fascism appears to be imminent in Bangladesh.
What is frightening about the current situation, is that most thoughtful recognize that the election has become a bit of a farce - with no opposition participation, over half the seats unopposed, and with all the others non-competitive - but Awami League leaders still seem to think that they can continue on after 5 January as though they are a legitimate new government. I don't know whether fascism is the right word to describe what may happen in Bangladesh, but the AL could be leading the country up a terrible cul-de-sac.

8.00 pm: Voter Turnout - does it matter now?
The Dhaka Tribune has an interesting story about the issue of voter turn out at the elections, with the headline, 'EC worried over possibility of low voter turnout'. Not so long ago, the issue of voter turnout seemed as though it would be a critical issue in determining whether the elections would be perceived as credible. At the end of November, I wrote the following:
Assuming diplomats have decided that lack of participation of the BNP is not the decisive factor in assessing credibility of the election, turnout is likely to determine the final view taken by the international diplomats. Though of course if there is a low turnout, diplomats may want to take into account the reason for it - whether is is the result of violent intimidation by the BNP/Jamaat or the free choice of the voters. 
It is unclear how high the turnout must be in order for the election to be considered legitimate. Recent elections in Bangladesh have a high turnout; in 2001 it was 76 percent, and in 2008 it was 80 percent. A third more people could decide not to vote in the election and there would still be a healthy turnout if compared to the turnout in Western countries where voter numbers are relatively low. (In the last two presidential elections in the US, the voter turnout was 57 percent and in the last two general elections in UK it was 65 and 61 percent.) 
In considering issues of credibility, should one be comparing the voter turnout at the forthcoming elections to Bangladesh's historic levels or to the levels in other countries? It is likely that around 50 percent is likely to be considered the magic number. If more than 50 percent of voters turnout, the international community (all things being equal) is likely to look upon the elections relatively favorably. However, the lower the turnout drops below 50 percent, the less credible the elections will be viewed. 
Negative views by diplomats about the turnout would obviously assist the BNP in their arguments to force the AL government to hold new elections - but it is unlikely that on their own they will be decisive in weakening the resolve of the AL, particularly considering the current government's rather negative view about the urgings of 'Western' diplomats. 
It now seems much less important. Of course the passage above was written on the assumption that the international observers would come and the success of the election itself would decide its credibility, and the situation is now very different. The EU have already said that the election-to-be is not credible and it will not be sending observers, and (if 2007 is anything to go by) the US is likely to soon follow.

Of course, when one talks about turnout, one is referring to the 146 constituencies where there will be a voter count - as in 154 constituencies there will be a voter turnout of zero since, with only one candidate standing unopposed, there will be no election

So does it matter anymore how high the turnout will be in those constituencies voting? 

The parties seem to think there is some significance - the AL is trying to get as high a turnout as possible, and the BNP is trying to reduce it. The expectation must be that the the turnout will be very low, no more surely than the vote in February 1996 - since the elections in these 146 constituencies are  not really competitive, with everyone knowing who will be the candidate that will win. In this situation, it will be difficult for the AL to get its vote out - particularly when there may be some security concerns.

I would suggest that the voter turnout does not now matter much anymore. The international community does not view the elections to have credibility - and it is difficult to see how most Bangladeshis do either. Obviously, a low turnout will be icing on the cake for the BNP - to bang home their position on the absurdity of the elections, and for the AL a higher than expected turnout may be some succor. 

But people have made up their minds about the credibility of the elections - and the turnout is unlikely to change anything.


11:10 am: PM's son accuses European Union of 'taking sides with war criminals'

Ouch! Sajeeb Wazed, the son of the prime minister, has attacked the European Union for 'taking sides with war criminals' in its decision not to send election observers. In his latest set of comments posted on Facebook, Sajeb states
The European Union diplomats have also taken sides here. ... With their statement today they are taking sides with BNP-Jamaat again. We have tried our best to bring the opposition to the elections, but BNP will not participate without Jamaat. Now the EU have taken Jamaat’s side as well by claiming these elections will not be credible ...Only the people of Bangladesh get to decide if the elections are credible or not, not foreigners. Shame on the EU for taking sides with war criminals ..
About the election he goes onto say:
Notice that they have not said elections will not be free and fair. They cannot say that because all 6000 elections held under Sheikh Hasina’s Government have been free and fair. They cannot say that as there are not 14 million false names on the voters list, as there were under Khaleda Zia’s Government.
He has also harshly critixised the EU for its purported decision to boycott victory day
They boycotted our Victory Day. This was an insult to our nation. Victory Day is not about Awami League and BNP, it is about Bangladesh and our hard fought Liberation. As a Bengali, I am outraged at the European Union diplomats. The EU took sides with Jamaat by boycotting Victory Day.
And of course there is the usual invective against the BNP
It has been several days since Pakistan’s Parliament passed a resolution condemning the punishment of the “Butcher of Mirpur” Qader Molla. My mother and all Bengalis have been outraged by this resolution and condemned it. However, our Leader of the Opposition Khaleda Zia has been absolutely silent. 
She has partnered with Jamaat for a long time, but with her continued silence she has taken sides. She has taken side with Jamaat and Pakistan against Bangladesh. This is shameful. As a Bengali I am ashamed that a former Prime Minister would not speak out for Bangladesh against Pakistan.
Putting to one side its highly undiplomatic language, which I am sure he will soon very much regret, So what to make of this?

1. The nature of EU's decision: On the issue of election observers, Sajeeb misunderstands the nature of the decision being made by the EU. It is about whether the elections are credible. I can only assume that in taking this decision the EU took into account the following issues: (a) over half of the seats are uncontested, so there is only half an election to even consider monitoring and half of the country's voters have been divested of a chance to vote; (b) very few of the remaining contested seats are properly competitive - with no opposition party contesting. There are only a small number of competitive constituencies - primarily inter-Awami League competitions (c) law enforcement agencies, under the direction of the government, detained Ershad to try and force him to take part in the elections (d) and of course, apart from the Awami League, all the main political parties are not participating.

So, I think if Sajeeb wants to criticise the EU for its decision, perhaps he needs to explain how this election that is to take place on 5 January, is in any way 'credible'.

2. Tried our best: Sajeeb complains that 'We have tried our best to bring the opposition to the elections, but BNP will not participate without Jamaat.'

Whatever the merits of the AL argument that it has done its best to compromise with the opposition (which are arguable at best), the EU decision was I imagine less concerned about the process of getting to the election and more concerned about what the election on 5 January would in the end comprise (see above)

Sajeeb's further claim that the BNP did not participate in the election because of the Jamaat is very far-fetched, and is unsupported by the facts. The issue at the heart of the electorate conflict between the BNP and the AL is about the nature of the government in power to conduct the elections. It is not to do with the Jamaat.

3. Free and fair: Sajeeb is correct to state that the EU did not mention that the elections on 5 January would not be free and fair. However, when half the seats are uncontested, and the other half are uncompetitive, and there is no opposition party taking part - what would be the meaning of the elections being deemed 'free and fair'? Moreover, in any case the only way in which a judgement could have been made about fairness, would would be after the elections not before.

Sajeb is also correct that most of the local elections that have occurred under the AL period have not been challenged, but there is a huge difference between local and national elections - with importance of government control of the police and administration being crucial.

4. The EU as 'pro-war criminals': Well I have to say that I never saw this particular insult coming. It is true in Bangladesh, one does not have to say very much in order to be considered pro-Jamaat or pro-war-criminal - the ultimate abuse these days - but to claim that the EU has taken sides with the war criminals is to take the discourse in the country down to a new low.

Sajeb has to remember who is in power right now. The Awami League, his own party And if he wants the EU to observe elections, all he has to do is get his party to set the course for credible elections. The EU's decision is nothing to do with its view on Jamaat-e-Islami.

5. EU Boycott: On this it appears that Sajeeb has got his facts wrong. According to EU diplomats, there was no snub of the Savar commemoration activities. According to them, the 2011 savar event was not well organised, and as a result the EU diplomats had security concerns. Therefore in 2012 (last year) - with no one making any comment - they also did not go. This year was simply following what happened in 2012. Assuming what I have been told by EU diplomats is correct, surely teh best way is to speak to them about the security issues and resolve them

As to the issue of the Pakistan parliament's resolution and the BNP's response - I will write about this another time.


6.45 pm: BREAKING NEWS: European Union halts plans for observing elections
This statement was just released by the EU
The spokesperson of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission, issued the following statementtoday:

"The High Representative regrets that the main political forces in Bangladesh have been unable to create the necessary conditions for transparent, inclusive and credible elections, despite many efforts, including most recently under UN auspices.

The High Representative urges all sides to refrain from violence and encourages all political leaders to respect the right of the people of Bangladesh to express their democratic choice. The High Representative has decided to halt for now the preparations for the deployment of an Election Observation Mission. (emphasis added)

The EU remains nonetheless ready to observe the elections should the political conditions allow for the holding of transparent, inclusive and credible elections"
This is as expected, following the recommendation of the EU ambassadors in Dhaka. To see background on this go to bottom of blog (Wednesday 6.05 pm and 11.28 pm).

2.25 pm: What is the prime minister thinking? 
The Daily Star is reporting today a speech that the prime-minister Sheikh Hasina gave to AL's Central Working Committee and advisory council at Gono Bhaban on Thursday. The article has a lot of detailed quotes, but it is not clear where they came from - as I assume no journalist was allowed - but perhaps someone recorded her speech and gave it to the Daily Star. The paper does not make this clear.

Assuming that the quotes are authentic - it provides some insight into what the prime minister is thinking. The key part of the article reads as follows:
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday said a fresh election would be held after dissolving the 10th parliament if an understanding is reached, but for that to happen the BNP must shun violence and sever ties with the Jamaat-e-Islami. 
Without specifying how long it will take before the next parliament is dissolved, Hasina said the process for the 10th general election on January 5 has already started and the BNP would not be able to participate in it. 
However, the main opposition BNP says it is hard to believe that the AL, “which wants to go to power through a farcical election”, will step down shortly..... 
Addressing a joint meeting of the AL Central Working Committee and advisory council at Gono Bhaban, Sheikh Hasina said, “The election process has already started. She [Khaleda Zia] has missed the train. She won’t be able to participate in the election.”
But, the prime minister said, discussions between the AL and BNP will continue even after the January 5 polls. 
“If we reach a consensus through talks and if she [Khaleda] stops hartal, blockade and repression, then after this election we will hold another after dissolving parliament.”
Hasina went on, "She [Khaleda] must stop hartal and blockade, killing of people, cutting of trees and sever relating with teh Jamaat and end torture on people. If these are done, we will again sit for talks [with the BNP]. If a consensus can be reached, then elections will be held within the constitutional guidelines. The elections will be free, fair and neutral.
This appears to be some kind of acknowledgment in her quotes that Hasina recongises in some way that the the up-comings polls will not be seen as credible - though at the same time they also seems to suggest that she does not fully appreciate what a corner she is now really is in, and how she is in no position to bargain.

The only argument that the Awami League can make at the moment is that it is  holding the elections under the constitution - however, even then there are those that argue (and I shall write about this later) that the polls could have been delayed under the constitutional provision by three months.

Assuming for now that the government is correct in stating that the constitution does not allow a delay in the elections, the only thing that AL has on its side in holding these elections, is the law

However it has nothing else. I don't know of a sensible and independent commentator who does not think that these elections are worthless or have an iota of credibility (see comments at 1.25pm below). Moreover, I know that at least some of Hasina's close advisors also accept privately that the election is a 'farce' - though whether they tell the prime minister that is a different thing altogether.

Now, it is true that the Awami League will come out of the elections in power, in control of the state apparatus, but as Mahfuz Anam has stated well (see below), Hasina will stand as the leader of Bangladesh in the same way as the dictator General Ershad used to do - a regime that was brought down by a popular democratic movement in 1990!

Hasina, of course, will not see herself quite like that (leaders never do!). She will no doubt feel that she has upheld the law and also is holding up the gates of democracy against the marauding terrorists/islamists (otherwise known by others as the opposition parties! - see Thursday, 3.10pm below)

However, apart from those unquestionably loyal to the Awami League, few within Bangladesh will support her position. Moreover, as reported in the New Age (see 6.05pm Wednesday, below), the day after the election, the EU will sit and reconsider its relationship with Bangladesh (including the whole issue of GSP), and no doubt other countries will do the same. Bangladesh will become increasingly isolated. Hasina has shown herself to enjoy the role of ignoring the international community - but the people of Bangladesh I doubt will not be quite so pleased.

Of course, though, the most important question is how the people of Bangladesh will respond. I suggest that the longer the AL tries to remain in power after 5 January 2014, without holding elections under a caretaker government or some such neutral arrangement, the more the support for the party will drain away. No doubt Hasina thinks that the longer in power, the more easy it will be for her to destroy the opposition; but in electoral terms, the longer the AL tries to retain power on the basis of a farcical election, the more support the opposition will garner.

1.25 pm: Trenchant criticism of Hasina and government in today's papers over 5 Jan 'elections'
The editors of the Dhaka Tribune and the Daily Star have both published columns in today's papers lambasting the absurdity of the current elections.

It is difficult to disagree with a single word that they say - at least in the key arguments that has been extracted below.

I should say that it is great that such trenchant criticism of the prime minister and the ruling party can be published in Bangladesh's media.

Mahfuz Anam's in the Daily Star is titled, 'The PM's gift: the Voterless election'. He start's by saying that:
Sheikh Hasina, her government and her party, have brought the situation to such a pass that we are forced to ask “are we living in democracy or in an elected ‘dictatorship’?
If there is one single distinguishing feature between democracy and any all other forms of government, it is the right of every single voter in the country to vote freely. However, in the present elections voters have not been allowed to vote at all, leave alone freely. 
He first points to the uncontested seats:
As of today 154 candidates have become MPs without receiving a single vote. Which means out of 9.19 crore voters, approximately 5 crore have been totally deprived of their voting rights.
He then makes a further point about the other contested seats - as not being really contested at all
For the remaining 146 seats the so-called election will be a total sham because those who will contest the AL candidates have never been known to get more than a few thousand votes leave alone win any election. So here also the voters will have been deprived of their “right” to vote as the election will provide no choice. Therefore the truth is the 10th Parliament is being established without the participation of the people, who are supposed to be the source of all power.
He then goes onto argue what that all means:
If people are not allowed to vote then there is no elected representative, and if there is no elected representative, there is no elected government. And if there is no elected government then what is the difference between the government that will be formed after January 5th and that of autocrat Gen. Ershad, that we replaced in 1991 after years of mass agitation?
Let us recall what is happening. The PM first formed what she called an “All party” election time government. Then she sat with those who joined the government and distributed seats among them, in some cases withdrawing able candidates from her own party, clearly proving that capacity of candidates was not an issue. She even said that if BNP had joined the poll-time government then she would have distributed seats with them.
What does it mean? That a few parties can sit together and distribute parliamentary seats among them, and then have them declared elected “uncontested” and then form a government with those who have been “selected” without getting a single vote? Is that the type of “representative“ government we will now have to accept?
He then goes onto suggest that the Awami League has had an impressive record, and argues - which I don't think is substantiated by the evidence - that the economic performance of the country has been better under the AL than under the BNP. He then argues that the AL could win if there was free and fair elections. Finally, however, he points out that the PM's costliest mistake was abolishing the caretaker government.
People who advised her to abolish CTG to ensure her victory in elections have led her to the path of self-destruction. Abolishing the CTG has been her single biggest and costliest mistake, and one that will be hardest for her to accept. But swallowing that bitter pill is far better than being guilty of destroying democracy or “winning“ a voterless election.
Zafar Sobhan'e op-ed is called, 'You can't be serious'.

He makes the same point as Mahfuz about the uncontested elections and states:
This is unprecedented, even for Bangladesh. Even in the elections held by BNP in February 1996 and boycotted by all the other major parties, there were only 49 uncontested seats, and in the aborted January 2006 elections boycotted by the AL and its allies, there were only 18 seats uncontested. We have had our fair share of dodgy elections in Bangladesh, but the upcoming January 5 polls look like they will comfortably set a new standard for travesty. Even by Bangladeshi standards this is pretty breath-taking stuff. Forget about the fact that 44 million voters won’t have much of an effective choice. The other 48 million have no choice at all. 
We all agree that the February 1996 elections were a sham and that the aborted January 2006 elections would have been, had they gone ahead. So how can we take these elections seriously, when they are already so non-participatory and so self-evidently unrepresentative? 
He then goes onto to look at the fiasco with General Ershad and the Jatiya party
Not content with holding an election in which the main opposition is not only not participating, but in which most of its leaders are actually behind bars, we hit a new low with the recent comedy surrounding our octogenarian ex-dictator, HM Ershad. The spectacle was riveting. 
The AL had been setting great store by the participation in the election of his Jatiyo Party, so when he indicated that he was planning to drop out, clearly something had to be done. I am not sure which genius came up with the plan of arresting him and confining him until after the deadline to withdraw nominations had passed, but astonishingly, that is precisely what happened. And now he is being shipped off to Malaysia until after the elections so he can’t make more trouble. 
I have heard of people being forcibly withdrawn from elections against their wishes, but never before have I heard of someone forced to run for office. This is surely a first. 
The AL has succeeded in keeping the JP in the elections, technically. But I’m afraid that it hasn’t done anything much for the credibility of the process or for its own reputation.

5.29 pm: BNP calls 4 day blockade from Saturday
Thank-god for Christmas, I say! Blockade continues until the 25th to avoid a blockade on Wednesday 25th December, which is Christmas day. Perhaps the country will take the day to its hearts for the first time?

3.10 pm: Religious extremism v moderation or what the AL would like us to think?
This article in India's Indian Express newspaper, neatly sums up what is I suggest, in effect, the strategy of the Awami League at the moment - to argue that the struggle in Bangladesh is not to do with credible or non-credible elections but is really about the moderation of the awami league and the extremis, Bangladesh Nationalist Party/Jamaat-e-Islami, and the country needs AL moderation. It states:
The current violence is also about two very different conceptions of Bangladesh — Hasina swears by secularism and ethnic nationalism; Zia is now in the thrall of the Jamaat-e-Islami, which collaborated with the Pakistan army in the genocide against Bengalis in 1971, and other extremist groups that seek to bring the nation under the sway of political Islam. .....There is, indeed, another way of looking at the current dynamic in Bangladesh — as part of a larger struggle in the subcontinent between the forces of moderation and modernisation on one hand, and those who want to push the region towards religious extremism on the other.
Dividing Bangladesh into these binary opposites, is of course very clever politics for the Awami League - allowing it to argue that whatever the democratic/crediblity questions about the forthcoming elections, there are much more serious matters at state about the resurgence of extremism - and the AL is needed, credible elections or not, to keep these forces in check.

Of course, to some extent the Jamaat have allowed such a story to be given credence, with its violent response to the execution.

But a number of points do need to be made. First, there is reason for the Jamaat to be legitimately aggrieved about the execution - it taking place on the basis of a charge with very limited evidence, which itself lacks credibility - and whilst violence is not the right response, protest was perfectly legitimate. (It is wonderful how 'pro-hanging' commentators (if I may describe them like that!) these days reduce all questions about the tribunal to 'technical' problems', as though nothing more problematic has taken place!)

And secondly, in holding the execution at this very unstable moment in bangladesh's politics, and with so many international actors warning about the impact of an execution at this particular moment, it does appear to look that Awami League was not that concerned about it and of course has gained a lot through it - as it adds fodder to its argument of AL moderation v opposition extremism.

Thirdly, the BNP does not seem to have taken sides with the Jamaat over the execution, so the facts dont really support the commentator's view that 'Zia is now in the thrall of the Jamaat-e-Islami'.

12.10 pm: Can the opposition conduct its political programs without violence
Reports in today's newspaper suggest that BNP's blockade continued 'successfully' - though there were no deaths and apparently a reduced level of violence. The rule of thumb in Bangladesh is that in order to enforce strikes/blockades etc successfully, the public need to be in fear, and this can only happen through committing acts of violence. It will be interesting to see whether the BNP can continue its blockade (successfully on its own terms) without resort to high levels of violence - or whether the lack of violence will result in businesses and the public increasingly willing to return back to normal life (as is very much the case in Dhaka already).

11.50 am: And the Dhaka Tribune on the wealth of Ershad and Hasina.
Following on from the last post, I should add that the Dhaka Tribune did look into the wealth statement of the prime minister Sheikh Hasina and Jatiya Party leader, Ershad - but there was nothing that revealing in them.

11.33 am: Daily Star's expose of the increase in members of parliament's wealth
The Daily Star has done a great piece of journalism, published in today's paper, outpacing (at least) all the other English language papers published in Bangladesh.

It has compared the wealth statement of eight members of parliament submitted to the Election Commission in 2008 with the ones submitted for this forthcoming elections. It is worth reading in full, but key highlights are set out below.

[Do note Tk1 lakh = Tk100,000 = $1262 and Tk1 crore is Tk 10,000,000 = $125,990]

- the wealth of Abdul Mannan Khan, former Awami League state minister for housing and public works and his wife, have increased 107 times in the last five years, from Tk10.33 lakh to 11.32 crore
- the wealth of Nur-e-Alam Chowdhury Liton, a former AL member of parliament, increased by 62 times in the five year period, from Tk 62.63 lakh to Tk 41.64 crore
-the wealth of Nuran Fatema, the wife of environment minister Hasan Moudud has increased 2,290 times from having assets worth Tk 60,000 in 2008 to Tk 13.74 crore in 2013. The former minister's own wealth has multiplied four times from  Tk 37,57 lakh to Tk1,72 crore.
- the wealth of Aslamul Haque, a ruling party lawmaker has also increased but would almost certainly have increased more if he had not apparently undervalued his land in his statement. In 2008, he said that he had 1.44 crore (including 5.5 acres of land) whilst in 2013, he says he is now worth Tk 4.9 crore - although his ownership of land has increased over 25 times to 145.6 acres of land!
- the wealth and property of member of parliament Nazrul Islam Babu and his wife increased by 25 time from Tk21.67 crore to Tk 5.67 crore.
- the wealth of former state minister for Local Government and Regional Development and Cooperatives and his wife has increased by 8 times, from Tk97.84 lakh to Tk8.28 crore.

Lets see whether the Anti-corruption commission opens up investigations into these members of parliament and their families?


11.40 pm: The Economist - saying it as it is
The great thing about the Economist is that it does not hold back its punches, and it judges everyone pretty equally!

In its latest article on Bangladesh - The ruling party will win Bangladesh’s election. The country will lose (published just now) - it calls the International Crimes Tribunal 'popular but deeply flawed', the Jamaat as being involved in 'outright murder' and the election planned for 5 January as 'an obvious sham'. Here is perhaps its key passage: 
The biggest disadvantage is that the poll will be an obvious sham. Of 300 elected parliamentary seats, 154 will be uncontested. The BNP and 17 of its small allies are joining the boycott. The government has detained in hospital and seems poised to exile Mohammad Hossain Ershad, a former dictator and the leader of Jatiyo, the third-largest party, for its boycott. The next-biggest party, Jamaat, has been banned from taking part on the ground that its overtly religious charter breaches Bangladesh’s secular constitution. 
At least the League will win. Whatever happens on January 5th, there will be enough MPs for parliament to swear in Sheikh Hasina as prime minister. The result may lack legitimacy at home and abroad. Yet India, Bangladesh’s giant neighbour and the only foreign power that could have swayed the decision to go ahead with a vote, chose not to intervene. 
However, India’s decision to give its implicit backing to an election with a predetermined result (a concept pioneered by Mr Ershad in the 1980s) may prove short-sighted. Anti-Indian sentiment in Bangladesh has already surged. And as conflict worsens, India’s ally, the League, risks being seen as anti-Islamic. Backing Sheikh Hasina’s power grab is likely to give India the opposite of what it wants: a more radical and less secular Bangladesh.
It is interesting that the Economist raises the issue of India - since India has it seems got itself in a rather tricky position, apparently supporting the Awami League in proceeding with elections which few think have any credibility. For India right now, however - it is anything but the BNP/Jamaat.

11.28 pm: And what about the US observers?
With the European Union on the cusp of announcing its decision not to send election observers (see 6.05 pm below), what will the United States do?

Funded through US-AID, the US government had planned different levels of election observation in Bangladesh.

One level was the international observers organised by the International Republic Institute. Another level was the Statistical Based Observation (which incorporates what is known as a Parallel Vote Tabulation) to be undertaken using local observers at a random but statistically representative number of polling centers (more about this later). This is organised by the international NGO Democracy International and is also funded by the UK government.

And a third level of US election monitoring is traditional local election monitoring, by five NGO's (including Brotee, BNPS, Jaago, Prip Trust and  TMSS) which would have involved the National Democratic Institute providing training etc. (An NDI team was recently in Bangladesh undertaking an assessment of the political and security situation to decide whether or not it should continue with its monitoring work.)

In 2007, it was US's IRI and NDI (both of whom that year were doing international monitoring) which on 10 January first announced its decision not to field any international observers stating in a statement that this was ‘because all ofthe major parties are not participating in the elections'.’ The EU announced a similar decision, the following day stating:

 ‘Major efforts have been undertaken by the EU and other international partners calling on all parties and stakeholders to work urgently and co-operatively towards an election process which meets the rights and expectations of the people of Bangladesh and which satisfies international democratic standards. Unfortunately these have not been successful to date. .... In view of this and also because of the decision of major parties to withdraw from participating in the 22 January elections, … it has become clear we cannot pursue the [election observer mission] as we had hoped.’

It is very likely this time round that the US and the EU will take similar decisions - though it is possible that the US may not stop all of its three observation processes.

6.05 pm:
No European Union observers to monitor election
A big question that has been simmering over the last few months is whether or not the EU and the US will send election observers to monitor the election (see this and this, for example). The presence of election observers has some importance for the government as their very presence in the controversial circumstances of the opposition boycott would provide the election credibility. However, that being said, the government does not seem to care very much what US and EU diplomats think about anything very much at present.

New Age reported exclusively this morning that EU ambassadors have sent a report to Brussels recommending that the EU does not send any election observers. One diplomat said:

‘Until Friday, there were some European missions who took a legalistic approach, arguing that observers should come and monitor the election as it was taking place in line with the constitution, and only after monitoring the election, the EU could then make a decision about its credibility,’ one senior diplomat told New Age. ‘However, after we learnt that 154 seats were unopposed, it was agreed that the criteria of credibility in the elections had gone. …. When over half the voters in the country have no right to vote, you cannot call this a general election,’ the diplomat, who was involved in writing the report, added.
And more concerning for Bangladesh is this:
One of the diplomats said that on 6 January next year, the day after the election, the EU will start to ‘reconsider its relationship with Bangladesh’ which ‘automatically takes place as the country has not held credible elections.’ He explained that the EU has different relationships between those countries  that they consider to be democratic states, like Bangladesh has been since 1990, and those countries that they view as rogue states. ‘[After the Jan 5 elections] Bangladesh will be somewhere in between, and we have to see what privileges it has been receiving in the past which they now could lose,’ the diplomat said.
I understand that the announcement is likely to be made soon - but it will not be made public until it has been communicated to both the Government (Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is likely to write a letter to Sheikh Hasina) and to the election commission.

5.40 pm: Rolling blog on countdown to Bangladesh's controversial elections
The execution of Quader Molla diverted my attention from election news and analysis for the last week! I was just about to write another of my stock-taking articles about the election (see below), when the Quader Molla execution was announced - and my head has been deep in that issue. There remains a few more things to be said about the decision to execute Molla, however these will be posted on the bangladeshwarcrimesblog, not here.

This page will deal with wider political issues in Bangladesh right now as the government continues to insist that the elections, due to take place on 5 January 2014, will in fact happen.

It will contain both news and analysis. I of course have my own views about what is happening in Bangladesh right now, who is right and who is wrong - but I will make sure that it is clear to readers when I am reporting news and when I am writing my own views.

Since I last wrote, three big things that have happened.
- The visit by UN Assist Secretary General has taken place. Taranco succeeded in getting BNP and AL leaders to meet three times - but there have been no substantive gains from this process, no deal anywhere near the horizon. However, the establishment of new lines of communication may well help in the future and could (after the 5 January elections) be helpful for getting new negotiations started between the parties. However, those hoping for any deal before 5 January 2014 - should just stop hoping!

- General Ershad leaving the election time government and saying that he was not going to take part in the election. This was a huge blow to the government who had banked - with BNP boycotting the elections - on Ershad acting as the opposition in the election on 5 January, and beyond. Without Ershad, the AL is in exactly the same situation as the BNP was in 1996 - with only small party allies taking part in the election other than itself. The government has tried very hard to get Ershad back on its side - without any direct success.  However, his detention in jail, his planned removal  from the country, and obtaining Ershad's compliant wife to become the acting head of his Jatiya party will remove Ershad from the picture for some time. Although Ershad tried to get his candidates to withdraw his candidates, this was not entirely successful and many Jatiya Party candidates remain as candidates (and some even have in effect now been elected unopposed, see below).

It appears that the Awami League will get Rowshan Ershad, and perhaps later a subdued Ershad, to play the so called loyal opposition in parliament, after the election.

- Unopposed seats: 13 December was always going to be a key date - the last date for nominations to be withdrawn from the election commission. What was however a surprise to many was that over half the seats in parliament (154) had only one candidate - so more than half the electorate in Bangladesh now have have no need to vote, effeciveley disenfranchised. Perhaps more than anything else, the lack of a competitive election in over half of the country's seats has removed any possibility that this election has any real credibility.

For those who want to catch up on what has happened before all this, these
01 Dec, Bangladesh Politico: Election stocktake 2 - where we are now
22 Nov, Bangladesh Politico: Election stocktake 1 - Where does Bangladesh go from here?
19 Nov, Bangladesh Politico: International dimensions of Bangladesh's current political crisis

To see other analysis about the election
03 Dec, Bangladesh Politico: In the best interests of party and country
29 Nov, New Age newspaper: Who is right about the election time government?
23 Nov, Bangladesh Politico: What to make of the Awami League's poll?
11 Nov: Bangladesh Politico: Dipu Moni, the law and the politics of the BNP arrests
02 Nov, Bangladesh Politico: Why Daily Star's opinion poll was a waste of time
31 Oct, Bangladesh Politico: Seven take-aways from the Khaleda/Hasina tel conversation
28 Oct, Bangladesh Politico: Bangladesh Nationalist Party's strategic advantage at risk
21 Oct, Bangladesh Politico: Khaleda's latest salvo: an eye to the international community
13 Sep, New Age Newspaper: Ten observations about the Democracy International/Nielsen polls

And For previous news about the election
30 Nov, New Age: International Observers constrained by principles and past
21 Nov, New Age: BNP's lead waning, AL opinion polls shows
21 Nov, New Age: Support for Caretaker Government remain strong
13 Nov, New Age: Legitimacy of govt after boycotted polls likely to be ‘questioned’: Chabot
12 Nov, New Age: Actions of AL, BNP 'destabilizing' the country': EU envoys
03 Nov, Bangladesh Politico: Prothom Alo'e pre-election september 2013 poll
24 Oct, Bangladesh Politico: Diplomats warn govt that without BNP, elections not credible
11 Sept, New Age: Significant swing towards the BNP, opinion polls show


  1. The report is objective, factual and very helpful.

  2. David, was it really worth responding or reacting to what Mr. Sazib said?