Country Report Bangladesh January 1996 Main report

Outlook: Polling to go ahead without the main opposition parties--

The general election is now scheduled for February 15. However, the main opposition parties, the Awami League (AL) and the Jatiya Party (JP), are not likely to participate. Talks aimed at resolving the political impasse created by the opposition's boycott of the legislature have been going on through a variety of channels for more than a year, and there is no prospect of any sudden breakthrough now. The president, Abdur Rahman Biswas, does not feel able, under the parliamentary system of government adopted in 1991, to force the prime minister, Begum Khaleda Zia, to resign before the poll--as demanded by the opposition. But a large number of candidates (2,000) have applied to stand for the 300 parliamentary seats, as many independents and members of small parties have come forward to contest the election against the ruling Bangladesh National Party (BNP). Small parties which have announced their intention to fight the election include the Bangladesh Awami Krishak Sramik League, the Bangladesh Gono Oikya Front, the Jatiyatabadi Jatiya Party and the Bangladesh Jatiya League.

--as the AL sees a boycott as the best way of defeating the BNP--

The AL, led by Sheikh Hasina, seems to have calculated that its best chance of defeating the BNP lies in a boycott of the election, as the incoming government will be perceived as lacking legitimacy. Sheikh Hasina is trying to repeat the history of the Ershad presidency (1982-90), when the BNP's refusal to take part in elections (in contrast to the AL, which did contest some) eventually resulted in the general's overthrow and the BNP's victory at the subsequent freely and fairly conducted general election in February 1991. However, the circumstances of this general election are rather different. Foreign observers are in the country to monitor the polling, just as they were in 1991, and the BNP will take pains to ensure that the elections are conducted as impeccably as possible.

--while the JP wants to get its leader out of prison

While the AL's boycott of the poll is due to its judgment that it would be unable to beat the BNP at the ballot, the JP's refusal to participate is a tactic to secure the release from prison of its leader, General Ershad. Since his illness in November, when the general's wife went on hunger strike in an unsuccessful effort to force his transfer to a private hospital, JP leaders have indicated that the party would participate in the general election only if the former president were set free and allowed to stand. Assuming that the government does not accede to this demand before the February poll, the JP will attack the credibility of the election result and continue in its attempts to bring down the BNP government.

© 1996 The Economist lntelligence Unit Ltd. All rights reserved
Whilst every effort has been taken to verify the accuracy of this information, The Economist lntelligence Unit Ltd. cannot accept any responsibility or liability for reliance by any person on this information