Government-Opposition Confrontation Looms in Bangladesh

On October 8 this year, the senior leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Amanullah Aman, announced at a public rally in Dhaka that the BNP would rule the country from December 10.Get ready, a new program will be announced” to lock down all of Bangladesh from Teknaf to Tetulia and Rupsha to Pathuria, he said.

“If necessary, we will be martyrs but no election under [Prime Minister] Sheikh Hasina will be allowed. We will return home after securing the removal of this government,” the BNP leader said.

The BNP said it will hold 10 rallies across the country. He has held seven rallies in major cities so far. All the demonstrations have been peaceful, although the ruling Awami League (AL) tried to break them up by shutting down public transport.

It is surprising that a large number of people have attended the BNP demonstrations, which has not happened during the last 13 years of AL rule. The final rally will be held in the capital Dhaka on December 10. The rally worries the government, especially in the context of its questionable political legitimacy.

The ruling party has accused the BNP of playing a “game”. Secretary General of the AL Obaidul Quader said that in the last 13 years the BNP did not protest for 13 minutes. “The BNP leaders failed to pull off a procession for their president Khaleda Zia, [and] now they dream of overthrowing the government. They are promising that they will hold a victory march with Khaleda Zia on December 10,” he said. Zia, the BNP leader, was convicted on corruption charges in 2018 and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

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The AL has vowed to stay in the streets to fight the challenges posed by the BNP.

AL Secretary General of Dhaka City (north), SM Mannan Kachi, said the party has started “area-based programmes”. The “anarchies” unleashed by the BNP will be counteracted by the AL programs throughout Decemberhe said.

Describing the BNP as a political party made up of “murderers, terrorists, anti-liberation forces and anti-humanity forces,” AL leader Abdur Rahman said that “their movement means terrorism of fire, assassination and enforced disappearances.” . The main objective of BNP is to capture state power through the back door. They do not believe in democracy and elections. His murderous mission in the name of politics will be strictly stopped.” The AL will not “forgive” them, he warned.

Bangladesh’s two main political parties are headed for a showdown at a rally scheduled for December 10 in Dhaka. Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters that the city of Dhaka does not have a place or field where two and a half million people can gather. “Since we are not obstructing political activities, if they organize such a program, they should do it in a place where so many people can stand”, said the minister. This suggests that the government will not allow the BNP to hold the rally in the city of Dhaka.

BNP members are enthusiastic about holding successful party rallies over the past month, something they were unable to do for 13 years. It is the current economic crisis in Bangladesh that has made such a massive mobilization possible.

Inflation is over 9 percent as of September 2022. The price of fuel has risen 50 percent and foreign exchange reserves have declined to $26 billion from $48 billion in August 2021.

Bangladesh has sought a $4.5 billion loan from the IMF, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina sought oil from Saudi Arabia with deferred time payment.

Meanwhile, Hasina has called on the people of Bangladesh to be frugal to avoid possible famine. “To use every inch of land for food production, we have to go for save and practice austerity,” she said. Food Minister Sadhan Chandra Majumder said Bangladesh has “enough food reserve” and if people avoided hoarding food, a famine could be avoided.

The deep economic crisis, the lack of transparency about the economic situation, and the contradictory statements issued by state actors have created public mistrust in the government. The depth of the mistrust became apparent when Bangladesh Bank had to issue an urgent statement certifying that the country’s banks are not facing a liquidity crisis.

Drawing attention to “conspiratorial” reports on social media, the Bangladesh Bank said in a statement that the country’s banking system is in a “strong position”, stressing that there are “there is no liquidity crisis in the banking system.”

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Despite growing public mistrust in the government, Bangladesh’s development partners – the United States, Japan, Germany and the European Union – are pressing the government to hold free, fair and inclusive elections. Some of these countries also raise doubts about the legitimacy of previous elections held under the LA government.

Japan’s ambassador to Bangladesh, Ito Naoki, recently said that “the police officers were filling the ballot boxes on the eve” of the vote in the 2018 general elections. In 2021 US Human Rights Report he also questioned the validity of the 2018 elections.

Such diplomatic pressure has also galvanized the opposition.

Meanwhile, on November 16, a Dhaka district court ordered Jatio party chairman GM Quader to refrain from political activities. A prominent Dhaka-based political analyst told The Diplomat that “the verdict was politically motivated as Quader has been talking about the economic crisis” which is damaging the image of the government.

These developments indicate that the political landscape in Bangladesh is becoming complex ahead of the 12th general election to be held in December 2023.

The upcoming demonstration on December 10 has become a matter of concern for the ruling party in this context.

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