Addressing the discontent in Dhaka

Addressing the discontent in Dhaka

New Delhi has enough reason to cheer Sheikh Hasina’s victory in the Bangladesh elections. Her government has been on the same page with Delhi on a slew of issues, including the fight against terrorism and improving connectivity in the region. Continuity in Dhaka would mean a continuity of these policies, which is welcome considering the complicated history of the region.

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina accepts greetings from the assembled media and election observers during a press conference, a day after she won the 12th parliamentary elections, in Dhaka.(AFP)

The US State Department on Monday pointed to the crackdown on political dissent in Bangladesh to claim that the recent polls were neither free nor fair, even as it said it would work closely with the new government. The US comments on Bangladesh polls may be deemed as intervening in the domestic affairs of that country. While the US’ concern about the health of democracy in Dhaka is welcome, its grandstanding is not. The fact is Awami League won nearly 75% of the 300 seats in the Jatiya Sangsad (national parliament) because the Opposition including the Khaleda Zia-led Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) boycotted the elections: The BNP had made its participation conditional on polls being held under a caretaker government to ensure fairness in the process. That might have been asking a bit too much, but the government, in the months leading up to the elections, crushed BNP protests and jailed thousands of its workers, attracting international opprobrium. Dhaka would do well to reflect on the criticism that flags a democracy deficit.

Now that it has won a fourth consecutive term in office, the Sheikh Hasina government should reach out to the Opposition and address the discontent. Elections at regular intervals are an integral aspect of democracy, but non-violent expressions of dissent and debate add fibre to its muscle. Dhaka’s concerns about extremists, particularly the Islamists, are understandable, but demonising the entire Opposition can only harm the country’s secular and liberal credentials. Dhaka needs all hands on deck as its $416-billion economy faces a global slowdown.

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