Friday, December 7, 2018

2018 election: Forced out, but service resumes

Five years ago, I was working as a journalist in Bangladesh employed by The New Age, one of the country's leading English language national newspapers, as well as writing on this blog about the forthcoming January 2014 elections

I would still be in Bangladesh now, writing about the up and coming election later this month, if last year the government had not, after 13 years of living in the country, forced me to leave. I heard from senior government sources at the time that retired Major General Tareq Siddiq, the defence and security advisor to the prime minister, was behind the decision - no doubt annoyed by articles at that time on disappearances, political corruption and much more. Soon after I left the country in July 2017, the Bangladesh government sent a circular around to all its embassies ordering that they should refuse any future visa applications I might make. 

So much for journalistic freedom in Bangladesh. 

And in the last year and a half things have got significantly worse. 

The recent arrest of Shahidul Alam, detained for over 100 days before receiving bail, is a perfect illustration of what can now happen to a journalist "going to far" and of how the police and courts - particularly the lower judiciary - function as simply surrogate government institutions with barely an independent bone in their bodies. Other journalists and editors have taken note. 

Bangladesh is now three weeks away from an election. This time around, opposition parties are taking part - despite the lack of any independent institutions that can hold and monitor free and fair elections. 

When one asks just about any independent commentator - or indeed Bangladesh's equivalent of the person on the Clapham Omnibus - about who would win these elections if they were "free and fair", the answer resoundingly is (for good or for bad) the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (or now the National Unity Front). 

Yet, one thing is clear - those same people will tell you that there is no way that the Awami League will allow itself to lose these elections. By hook or by crook, the current government will manipulate the vote, and do everything in its power to ensure that it continues in power, they say.

For the next three weeks, this blog, written in London but in close contact with many in Bangladesh, will look at the background to these elections: Is it true that the Awami League has lost its popularity? Can the BNP be trusted to govern again? What is different about the new opposition alliance? How will the Awami League government ensure it will win the election, "by whatever means"?

Feel free to email me here with any information or comments.

David Bergman


Other 2018 Elections posts

- Dec 7:   Forced out, but service resumes
- Dec 7:   Disappearances before 2014 election
- Dec 9:   Exclusive: Results of Confidential Poll revealed
- Dec 11: Bangladesh's "Closing Democratic Space"

- Dec 13: Fear and Awami League leaders
- Dec 13: Challenging the Orthodox View
- Dec 15: Full Pre-election polls for download
- Dec 21: Why the Government is fixing the election
- Dec 22: Sajeeb Joy's poll half-truths
- Dec 22: Facebook exposes government's fake news
- Dec 23: A disgrace of a website

- Dec 25: Awami League's new crisis of legitimacy

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