Country Report Bangladesh January 1996 Main report

Political scene: Caretaker government issue remains unresolved--

The opposition parties were predictably jubilant at Mrs Zia's request for parliament to be dissolved. They immediately demanded that she step down from office so that free and fair elections could be held under a neutral, caretaker government. However, despite the widespread desire that an acceptable way out of the deadlock be found, the AL continued to demand that Mrs Zia should resign first and a caretaker government should then be appointed, while the prime minister argued that, according to the constitution, she could step down only after agreement had been reached on the exact details of the government which would replace her.

There was general agreement on the government side that Mrs Zia should hand over power to the president, who would head a non-party advisory council charged with overseeing the general election. In this way the government could accede to the demand that Mrs Zia stand down from office 30 days before the poll. Many members of the BNP acknowledged that if the election took place without the participation of the opposition parties the resulting BNP government would lack legitimacy.

But the opposition parties remained insistent that no discussions about an interim government could take place until after Mrs Zia had stepped down from office, and that a non-party prime minister should head the caretaker government; the president was not acceptable as an interim leader.

--and the opposition takes to the streets to maintain pressure

Throughout the final quarter of 1995, while informal talks between the two sides continued, the opposition parties kept up pressure on the BNP for a settlement on their terms by organising hartals (sit-in strikes) and transport blockades. A record six-day hartal on November 11-16 disrupted life and business throughout the country, and erupted into violence in Dhaka, with 300 people, including police and opposition activists, receiving injuries. In addition, four deaths were reported in Mirpur as a result of a bomb blast.

But the government was not in danger of being overthrown by the action taking place on the streets, however damaging this was to the economy. Opposition to the stoppages from the business community became more focused as the disruption increased. On November 2 the president of the Bangladesh Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Salman Rahman, asked all businessmen to stop work for 15 minutes and go out on to the streets to demonstrate their disgust at the unending political crisis, which was ruining their business prospects. Mr Rahman laid the blame for the situation on all the political parties.

© 1996 The Economist lntelligence Unit Ltd. All rights reserved
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