Dhaka, Oct 11: Bangladesh witnessed a tense Wednesday, October 10, as a court in Dhaka sentenced 19 people to death and son of former prime minister Khaleda Zia to life imprisonment in connection to a deadly attack on a political rally held by Sheikh Hasina, the current prime minister and the Opposition leader then, in the Bangladeshi capital.
Two dozen people were killed while 300 were injured in the attack. Hasina had a narrow escape as her Awami League (AL) party members escorted her to a waiting vehicle from a dais in front of the party headquarters nears which several grenades went off.
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The judge who gave the verdict, Shahed Nuruddin, said the attack was aimed at eliminating the AL leadership.
Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which was in power at the time, protested the verdict and announced a seven-day programme to show its dissent along with its affiliate organisations. The week-long protest will witness rallies in cities, districts and sub-districts. The party's joint secretary general, Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, made the announcement at a press conference at the party headquarters here.
The latest verdict is the second big blow to the BNP this year. In February, Zia was sentenced for five years in connection with embezzlement of USD 250,000 and the decision had enraged her party which said the national election scheduled in a few months' time will lack credibility of their leader remained behind bars.
The question now is: Do the imprisonments of Zia and her son Tarique Rehman (who was also sentenced to 10 years in prison when his mother faced the verdict) mean Bangladesh has now inched closer to a one-party rule?
The election of 2014 in the country was controversial as almost all Opposition parties had boycotted it and large-scale violence marred the polling. The AL, which former government then, was accused of targeting its opponents to win a tailor-made election. The apprehension is no less different this time either. Political workers and activists opposed to the Hasina government are afraid that they too will be targeted this time and for many, this doesn't augur well for a democracy.
Bangladesh's politics has been dominated by either of the two parties since inception. The two women leaders - Hasina and Zia - have taken turns to leader the country as its prime minister 1991. The intense rivalry between the two parties has seen the country being engulfed by violence and unrest.
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Although the ruling AL is being accused of undermining the democratic principles in Bangladesh, the BNP cannot deny its own share of responsibility in having vitiated the democratic ambience in the country during its days in power. During its rule between 2001 and 2006, Bangladesh was dubbed as the most corrupt country in the world. Zia was also accused of encouraging the Islamist fundamentalists to attack the country's minority community and the political opponents. Its leaders were accused of killing two senior leaders of the AL and then of course, the 2004 attack is there.
Hasina, on the other hand, has remained in power since 2009 and in this period, she has cemented her stature as a powerful leader of her country - a custodian of sort of the country's democratic values. She is seen to be more India-friendly than the BNP which keeps New Delhi assured while her efforts to get internationally lauded for her humanitarian aid to the Rohingyas who fled from the neighbouring Myanmar has also worked in her favour. With the rising threats of terrorism on Bangladeshi soil, Hasina's significance as a leader who can resist the threat has also increased.
But having said that, seeing Bangladesh turning into a one-state system is not good. This will not only breed a political tyranny but also an uncertainty when the time arrives for the country to find a worthy successor to Hasina, who is 71-year-old now. Bangladesh has got a form of political stability over almost a decade of Hasina's stay in power but at the same time, its democratic functioning has also tended to turn stagnant because of the Opposition's slide.