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Political crisis in Bangladesh: January 2015 update

Published Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The political scene in Bangladesh remains as turbulent as ever. Flawed elections in January 2014 were boycotted by the main opposition parties, leaving the field clear for the ruling Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina. There has been renewed protest action on the streets to mark the first anniversary of the elections, which has led to increased violence and at least ten deaths. Opposition leader Khaleda Zia was detained in her office for over two weeks by the authorities and faces trial for corruption. This briefing provides an overview of developments in the country since the 2014 elections.

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The political scene in Bangladesh remains as turbulent as ever.

The main opposition parties, the Bangladeshi National Party (BNP), led by Khaleda Zia, and Jamaat e Islami (JeI) have been calling without avail for fresh parliamentary elections since they boycotted those that took place in January 2014, in which the Awami League (AL), led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, won an overwhelming victory. Their dispute centres on the fact that Zia wanted the 2014 elections to take place under the auspices of a neutral caretaker government, whereas Hasina instituted an all-party interim cabinet instead.

In recent weeks, the hostilities between what media outlets have called the ‘battling Begums’ have further intensified. Khaleda Zia called for mass demonstrations on 5 January under the banner, “Murder of Democracy Day”, to mark the first anniversary of the 2014 elections.

The AL government responded by banning demonstrations. Zia then called for an indefinite blockade of roads, railways and waterways leading into Dhaka, the capital. This began on 5 January and remains in effect.

On 16 January, the BNP and JeI called for a dawn to dusk hartal, or ‘stay at home’ protest. The League responded with counter-demonstrations across the country on 17 and 18 January.

The protests have led to at least ten deaths. One BNP leader has been shot and wounded. Khaleda Zia was confined to her Dhaka office between 3 and 19 January. The authorities claimed that it was done for her own security. Zia is also on trial for corruption.

The UK and US governments have expressed their concern over the ongoing violence, as has the EU. Meanwhile, the controversial International Crimes Tribunal has continued to try individuals accused of serious human rights violations during the 1971 war of independence.

Commons Briefing papers SN06696

Author: Jon Lunn

Topics: Asia, Elections, Human rights, International politics and government

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