Foreign Policy Blogs

On Sheikh Hasina’s Populist Pre-election Gambit


Politics, electoral politics, is roaring back to the scene in Bangladesh. In a 20-minute televised speech, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh and the leader of the ruling Awami League Party Sheikh Hasina, invited her opposition to form a national unity government before the coming sure-to-be-strongly disputed parliamentary election that will decide the next course of Bangladesh’ politics and history.

Prime Minister Hasina made strong and welcome overtures to the opposition coalition headed by the BNP. She said, according to the Dhaka Tribune:

“We want the national election to be participated by all political parties. Our proposal to the opposition party is that we can form the election-time government comprising [representatives from] all parties. Hence, I am offering the opposition party that they can provide names of their lawmakers so that we can make them cabinet members of the interim government, so that no one cast doubt on the polls.”

Further, trying to box in the opposition with calls for national unity in the service of national public service, Hasina publicly invited the leader of the BNP, Begum Khaleda Zia to accept her overtures:

“I am requesting the opposition leader to respond to my call, keep my request and value our good intention with a positive gesture.”

This is all to the good. The question is: why is Sheikh Hasina moving toward the opposition at a time when, usually, party politics might well win out over the national good?  The answer, I think, skirts around the view that surely Sheikh Hasina thinks that she’s in for a victorious re-election, a historic re-election that for the first time would see a party win parliament for two consecutive election cycles.  The recent spate of nationalism and historical sin-expiation has helped the Awami League along despite the fact that paramilitary violence is on the rise, and the recent commercial factory tragedies, the Rana Plaza tragedy and its correlates, can be traced back to the AL’s nepotistic machinations. And that news on the heels of international headlines seems to not have pushed back on the government’s fair chances for re-election.

And to that end, she wants to put the blame for any and all foreseeable political violence squarely on the shoulders of the opposition.

Tensions are running high on the streets: both parties have called for rallies come October 25th ahead of elections in January 2014. The public, per usual, expects street violence to take up the day, and the news thereafter.

Hasina’s move would seem to undercut that by democratic, populist appeals. Thus, to take away the sting of politics, Hasina laid out the plan for the coming election in strictly bureaucratic terms, surely in the hopes that the public might cotton to bureaucracy over naked partisanship.

Still, Hasina delivered one final blow to the rather more Rightist, Traditionalist, opposition, though she couched it in terms that would be appealing to the Bangladeshi people.

She pleaded:

“Avoid the path of anarchy. Keep trust in people. The path of peace and consensus will bring the people’s welfare,” she said. “Stop burning the holy Qur’an, setting fire to mosques and defaming Islam. Stop using the orphans in making deadly bombs in madrasas. Stop burning innocent pedestrians and poor bus drivers to death. Let the people live in peace.”

The ball’s in the BNP’s court. Let’s see how this plays out come January 2014.

Photo: AFP/Getty



Faheem Haider
Faheem Haider

Faheem Haider is a political analyst, writer and artist. He holds advanced research degrees in political economy, political theory and the political economy of development from the London School of Economics and Political Science and New York University. He also studied political psychology at Columbia University. During long stints away from his beloved Washington Square Park, he studied peace and conflict resolution and French history and European politics at the American University in Washington DC and the University of Paris, respectively.

Faheem has research expertise in democratic theory and the political economy of democracy in South Asia. In whatever time he has to spare, Faheem paints, writes, and edits his own blog on the photographic image and its relationship to the political narrative of fascist, liberal and progressivist art.

That work and associated writing can be found at the following link:

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