Monday, February 9, 2015

Political crisis 2015 - 'International crisis group' report

See also in the 'Political Crisis 2015' series:
Analysis of the deaths (updated to 1 Feb)

An impressive and detailed analysis of Bangladesh's political situation has just been published by the International Crisis Group. Though it is primarily based on field research undertaken in August 2014, and deals with a wide range of issues including the International Crimes Tribunal, judiciary, and the media (which I will try and come back to in later posts), it also takes a view about the current political situation and here are some extracts from the introduction and the full conclusion. The full report is available here.

My only immediate comment on the report is that in its introduction it states that 'violent Islamist factions are already reviving'. We should certainly be very fearful of this if it was the case, but I wonder if such a revival is actually happening, though the current violent instability certainly provides fertile ground.
…. Having boycotted the 2014 poll, the BNP appears bent on ousting the government via street power. With daily violence at the pre-election level, the political crisis is fast approaching the point of no return and could gravely destabilise Bangladesh unless the sides move urgently to reduce tensions. ..
With the two largest mainstream parties unwilling to work toward a new political compact that respects the rights of both opposition and victor to govern within the rule of law, extremists and criminal networks could exploit the resulting political void. Violent Islamist factions are already reviving, threatening the secular, democratic order. While jihadi forces see both parties as the main hurdle to the establishment of an Islamic order, the AL and the BNP perceive each other as the main adversary.

The AL and its leader, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid, emphasise that the absence from parliament of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and her BNP make them political non-entities. Yet, concerned about a comeback, the government is attempting to forcibly neutralise the political opposition and stifle dissent, including by bringing corruption and other criminal cases against party leaders, among whom are Zia and her son and heir apparent, Tarique Rahman; heavy-handed use of police and paramilitary forces; and legislation and policies that undermine fundamental constitutional rights.

The BNP, which has not accepted any responsibility for the election-related violence in 2014 that left hundreds dead (and saw hundreds of Hindu homes and shops vandalised), is again attempting to oust the government by force, in alliance with the Jamaat-e-Islami, which is alleged to have committed some of the worst abuses during that period. The party retains its core supporters and seems to have successfully mobilised its activists on the streets. Yet, its sole demand – for a fresh election under a neutral caretaker – is too narrow to generate the public support it needs to over- come the disadvantage of being out of parliament, and its political capital is fading fast as it again resorts to violence.

The deep animosity and mistrust between leaders and parties were not inevitable. Despite a turbulent history, they earlier cooperated to end direct or indirect military rule and strengthen democracy, most recently during the 2007-2008 tenure of the military-backed caretaker government (CTG), when the high command tried to re- move both Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia from politics. Rather than building on that cooperation, the two leaders have resorted to non-democratic methods to undermine  each other. In power, both have used centralised authority, a politicised judiciary and predatory law enforcement agencies against legitimate opposition. …. 
The AL needs to realise that the BNP’s marginalisation from mainstream politics could encourage anti-government activism to find more radical avenues, all the more so in light of its own increasingly authoritarian bent. Equally, the BNP would do well to abandon its alliances of convenience with violent Islamist groups and seek to revive agreement on a set of basic standards for multiparty democracy. A protracted and violent political crisis would leave Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia the ultimate losers, particularly if a major breakdown of law and order were to encourage the military to intervene; though there is as yet no sign of that, history suggests it is an eventuality not to be dismissed. The opportunities for political reconciliation are fast diminishing, as political battle lines become ever more entrenched. Both parties should restrain their violent activist base and take practical steps to reduce political tensions:

 the AL government should commit to a non-repressive response to political dis- sent, rein in and ensure accountability for abuses committed by law enforcement entities, reverse measures that curb civil liberties and assertively protect minority communities against attack and dispossession of properties and businesses;

 the AL should invite the BNP, at lower levels of seniority if needed, to negotiations aimed at reviving the democratic rules of the game, including electoral reform. It should also hold mayoral elections in Dhaka, a long-overdue constitutional re- quirement that would provide opportunities to begin that dialogue; and

 the BNP should commit to non-violent political opposition; refrain from an alli- ance with the Jamaat-e-Islami that is enhancing the Islamist opposition’s street power with little political return for the BNP; and instead demonstrate willingness to engage in meaningful negotiations with the AL to end a crisis that is undermin- ing economic growth and threatening to subvert the political order. ...
In mid-2014, a retired senior military official predicted: “Unlike 2013, when we saw a steady build-up of a crisis, we could now see a sudden meltdown of law and order. It could take just one knock”.174 As the clashes that began in January 2015 escalate, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia should recognise that without constructive gestures that risk will increase, with both sides the ultimate losers. For this reason, it is in their interests to restrain their party activists, resume dialogue and, in the government’s case, rein back the law enforcement apparatus.

Sheikh Hasina’s efforts to win popularity via economic development or war crimes trials as her government stifles dissent might seem a good way to consolidate power. But they threaten the AL’s internal coherence, domestic stability and potentially the government’s future. A significant part of the electorate will continue to oppose the AL, and attempts to forcibly suppress opposition would exacerbate social and politi- cal divisions. Sheikh Hasina should also know that if she loses the next election, the tools her government uses against political opponents today (and that were put in place by prior BNP administrations) could be used against her party.175

The BNP’s many supporters again are being swayed by calls for hartals; another prolonged period of street clashes could either end, as the earlier one, with forceful suppression of protests, or result in a complete breakdown of law and order, possibly sparking military intervention. Neither outcome would help the BNP to revive its for- tunes. The party should instead reopen dialogue with the government if it is to regain the support of citizens suffering economically from the ongoing shutdown and con- cerned about growing political instability.

Both parties should urgently search for ways out of the impasse. Since some BNP leaders have appeared open to considering alternatives to the caretaker model,176 the government could revive its proposal for an all-party cabinet to oversee elections, with limited policy- and appointment-making powers and a strong election commis- sion. This would at the least present an opportunity to begin long-overdue negotia- tions for defusing political tensions. Much depends, however, on the willingness of both leaders to reach out to each other, instead of continuing to rely on undemocratic forces, including the security establishment, to quash dissent, or on violent street protests and dubious alliances with those on extremist fringes.

1 comment:

  1. There was never an Islamist Faction in Bangladesh before. Who you called Islamist Faction, in actual, is the followers of Islam, and Islam is the major religion in Bangladesh. Everyone has right to practise their religion and if you called it Islamist Faction, what can I say in reply. Everywhere in the world, non-muslims are accusing muslims for committing something wrong , that can never be done by muslims. I agree, there are some people, who wants to be benefited in this world, in the name of religion, why only Islam, there are many extremists from other religions too, infact, they are more in number.
    What you said in your article, is to show, that, the Bangladesh is going to become a terrorist Country soon. I am saying, it's not possible, since, there were many attacks on muslims in Bangladesh but still the muslims try to solve it by protesting, they never fought. If they were to fight, they could have done it after the massacre against Hefazot-E-Islami on the nights of 5th and 6th May of 2013. Also, in recent days, haven't you seen who's getting killed in the name of cross-fire, those youngsters, more of them are from Islami Saatro Shibir, have never even committed any violence against anyone.
    At last, I would like to say, there can never be any discussion between the two major Political parties of Bangladesh, which are BNP and BAL. The reason is very simple, the people of Bangladesh has seen the worst of BAL since they gained independence in 1971. During, 1971 - until now, thousands of people have been killed by BAL and BAL hadn't done any improvement in Bangladesh. What BAL always tried to do is to destroy Bangladesh in every aspects. If you compare BNP, just take the killings, BNP did not have that record. Thank you
    Note: please change c to v, as it says ciolent instead of violent.