As Bangladesh gears up for the next parliamentary elections, political heat has been raised a notch higher with a slew of dramatic developments.
The Dhaka High Court in a landmark judgment on October 30 enhanced the quantum of punishment to former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia from 5 to 10 years – thus completely sealing her fate and forbidding her from contesting the elections.
In other words, Prime Minister Hasina’s principal opponent is now out of the fray and the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), has been left bereft of their only charismatic leader who can pull of successful rallies ahead of the coming elections.
The other leader, Tareq Rahman, son of begum Zia and party supremo is sheltered in London and remains disabled to come to Dhaka as he is also a convict and remains beleaguered.
Significantly, Khaleda Zia is the only Bangladeshi former prime minister to face conviction. She has been in and out of jail before, but this time she is convicted and now undergoing a sentence.
Here, it would be pertinent to mention that the High Court passed the judgment after hearing the recommendation of the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) seeking enhancement of punishment in the infamous draft case pertaining to an orphanage. The judiciary has thus severed the political jugular vein of Khaleda and her BNP decimating their political future – and possibly even survival.
Former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has been sentenced to 10 years in jail. (Photo: Reuters)Coincidentally, in another interesting and important development, ruling Awami League (AL) leader and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had extended a formal invitation to hold a dialogue at her official residence on November 1 with Gono Forum (GF) leader, Dr Kamal Hossain who is also heading the Jatiya Oikya (National Unity) Front.
This is in response to Dr Hossain’s request for a dialogue with regard to his charter of demands which among other things include elections under a non partisan government, the full independence of judiciary, freeing MPs from the stringent restrictions imposed on them under Article 70 of the constitution and the most pressing demand of them all, the release of Khaleda Zia.
Until now, Dr Kamal Hossain had another partner, former President of Bangladesh, Dr Badrudozza Choudhury in his Oikya Front who has since parted because of sharp irreconcilable differences.
It appears surprising that Dr Kamal is pitching in for Khaleda’s release and he knows it well that at the November 1 dialogue, this demand is almost impossible to be met. Also, Dr Hossain has been one of the closest lieutenants of the founding father of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the first foreign minister of the country.
Political temperatures are rising ahead of Bangladesh's upcoming parliamentary elections. (Photo: Reuters)
And, his long association with AL and loyalty with SK Mujib doesn’t behoove his stature to canvass for BNP and Khaleda. A constitution expert of extraordinary calibre, Dr Kamal has no grassroots support and has never won an election. He is articulate, affable and his grip on international relations have always seen him through in negotiations with global leaders but at the ground level, his track record is dismal and, therefore, his electoral prospects have no promise.
With Hasina’s astuteness, she is very unlikely to grant any leeway to Kamal Hossain. Having said that, it would be sheer curiosity for political pundits to see what transpires at the dialogue on November 1.
In the meantime, Bikalpa Dhara chief, former President of Bangladesh, Dr Badrudozza Choudhury, has also sought a time with Prime Minister Hasina for discussing election-linked plans. This comes in the wake of Dr Kamal Hossain's initiative to meet the AL party president and plead for Khaleda‘s release. However, in complete contrast to Dr Kamal’s stance, Dr Badrudozza Choudhury is expected not to raise Khaleda issue.
His meeting is just fixed for November 2. It may be recapitulated that Dr Choudhury is opposed to Jamaat being a partner in any seat sharing. Hence, November 2 is equally significant to watch for.
Has the road been cleared for Sheikh Hasina to retain her seat in the PM's office? (Photo: Reuters)PM Hasina, on her part, has amply demonstrated that she is engaging her political adversaries in dialogues, and as such evaded any criticism of being seen as autocratic. Her political astuteness will automatically silence her detractors and western critics paving the way for free and fair elections.
Meanwhile, the Election Commission of Bangladesh has scrapped the registration of Jamaat e Islami (JeI) as a political party on October 28 under article 90 H(4) of the Representation of the People’s Order (RPO) 1972. Hence this party – a long time partner of BNP – also stands decimated.
As things stand today, political developments in Bangladesh will gain more momentum in the next couple of months raising the political temperature to a fever pitch.