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Global issue 20

In Focus Bangladesh Bangladesh and its battling begums Two women have dominated the country’s political scene since independence – Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia. But the political rivals are barely on speaking terms Katie Silvester and Rita Payne Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s DNA is inextricably entwined with the history of her country. Her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was the country’s first Prime Minister and is now thought of as Bangladesh’s founding father. But tragedy struck three years after he was sworn in as leader, when he was assassinated in 1975, along with most of his family. The only survivors were Sheikh Hasina and her sister, who were visiting Germany at the time. Sheikh Hasina became Prime Minister of Bangladesh in 1996, having led the Awami League, her father’s old party, to victory at that year’s elections. Five years later, she lost office to her arch rival Khaleda Zia, when a four-party alliance led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) won a landslide victory. In 2004 Hasina survived an assassination attempt, when a grenade was thrown that killed 21 party supporters. But that didn’t keep her from frontline politics and the Awami League swept to victory again in 2008, following voting reforms intended to re-establish confidence in the electoral system, after several opposition parties threatened to boycott an earlier aborted election. Following a tradition of opposition parties protesting about irregularities at elections – Hasina had complained about voterigging following the 2001 elections – the most recent election, on 5 January 2014, was boycotted by the BNP, which had called for the polls to be held under a caretaker government. As a result, voting took place in only 147 of the country’s 300 constituencies, with 153 seats uncontested. The Awami League obtained a two-thirds majority in parliament, with the Jatiya Party forming the parliamentary opposition. Speaking to Global before the election, Hasina insisted that her government was working hard to promote a fair electoral process: “My whole life, I have been striving to establish democracy and free, fair elections.” However, outsiders saw it differently. Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma said immediately after the elections: “The limited levels of participation and the low voter turnout are disappointing. The acts of violence are deeply troubling.” Human Rights Watch declared that hun- Election posters from the 1996 parliamentary elections, which were won by the Awami League 66 l www.global -br ief ing.org f i rst quar ter 2015 global


Global issue 20
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