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Bangladesh

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The 2006–2008 Bangladeshi political crisis began in October 2006 when a caretaker government — designated by the constitution to oversee the vote — assumed power without exhausting the provisions of selection of Chief of Caretaker government at the end of October. Its purpose was to steer the country through the scheduled parliamentary elections. However, on 3 January 2007, the Awami League made its predicted announcement that it (and the 18 smaller parties attached to it) would boycott the general election scheduled to be held on 22 January 2007, questioning its fairness and the non-availability of an accurate voters list. This announcement led to widespread violence and political rioting.[1] This on-going political crisis has stemmed largely from an apparent politicalisation of the civil administration, election commission and defense force that was perceived to be skewing the election process towards a pre-determined result. This follows on from almost 2 decades of bitter rivalry between the Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The BNP-led government stepped down in October at the end of their term. Although the caretaker government was appointed immediately afterwards, Awami League and its allies maintained their position regarding the fairness of the upcoming election. Violence erupted throughout the country, killing more than 40 people.

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Background

According to Bangladesh's unique electoral system, a caretaker government is entrusted to oversee the national parliamentary elections, which must be held within ninety days of dissolving a parliament. The constitution stipulates that the last retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court lead this caretaker government as its Chief Advisor (with status of Prime Minister) and would appoint a maximum of ten advisors (with status of ministers) to assist him. The caretaker government runs all the state's affairs during these ninety days, including conducting the nationwide parliamentary elections. However, during this time, the Defense Ministry's charge is transferred to the country's President, who assumes the role of Commander-in-Chief.

At the end of BNP's 2001-2006 term, Awami League accused BNP of politicising the top levels of civil government as well as the election commission, judiciary and the command of the Army, claiming that a free and fair poll would not be possible unless mass changes were brought about in the administration. They also questioned the immediate past Chief Justice's neutrality and accused him of being biased towards BNP.

Amid protests and violence led by Awami League right after the term of BNP ended in October 2006, the former Chief Justice K M Hasan declined to take the job of Chief Advisor (CA). As a final option in the constitution, President Iajuddin Ahmed himself took the role, in addition to his own responsibilities, and appointed an advisory council.

Awami League, although wary of Iajuddin as the CA, agreed to take part in the elections but also demanded that he bring mass changes in the administration to free it from BNP's politicisation. They also demanded that a new and accurate voter list be compiled. The allegation that the Voter list was flawed has been somewhat supported by EU's election observers. Awami League also accused Iajuddin of being a puppet of BNP and on January 3, 2007 finally declared that they would boycott the election and violence broke out across the country.

Cessation of election monitoring operations

On January 11, 2007, the United Nations and the European Union suspended their election monitoring operations because they felt that conditions for a credible vote did not exist.[2] In a statement, the EU said, "The European Commission has decided to suspend its Election Observation Mission (EOM) to Bangladesh covering the parliamentary elections on 22nd January. The European Commission has called back the long-term observers already on the ground, and will not deploy the other phases of its observation mission, which was due to be led by MEP Alexander Graf Lambsdorff."[3] A spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that "The political crisis in Bangladesh has severely jeopardized the legitimacy of the electoral process. The announced cancellation of numerous international observation missions is regrettable. The United Nations has had to suspend all technical support to the electoral process, including by closing its International Coordination Office for Election Observers in Dhaka."[4]

State of emergency

On the same day as the UN and EU withdrawal from the election procedures, chief advisor of the caretaker government Iajuddin Ahmed (the current president) announced a state of emergency in Bangladesh after weeks of political crisis over the upcoming elections, implementing a late night to early morning (11 p.m. to 5 a.m.) curfew. It has been suggested that that was in fact a form of coup.[5] Within hours of the state of emergency declaration, President Ahmed announced his resignation as chief advisor, as well as the postponement of the scheduled election. Prior to his own resignation, he accepted those of nine of the ten advisors of the caretaker government. The remaining advisor on the board Fazlul Haque was then appointed by President Ahmed as the interim chief advisor. "It is fairly apparent that it was done under pressure from the army because of the threat that the country could lose its peacekeeping role," said analyst Zafar Sobhan, a columnist for the leading Daily Star newspaper.[6] On January 12, 2007, the former Bangladesh Bank governor Fakhruddin Ahmed was sworn in as the new chief advisor. Mr. Ahmed appointed five advisors on January 13 to form the new interim government. The curfew was lifted once the police received reports of Fakruddin Ahmed being named the head of the caretaker government.[7] The state of emergency, however, continues to be in effect until further notice, and it suspends some basic rights provided by the constitution, such as the freedom of movement, assembly, and speech.[8]

Local elections in some locations were decided to be held on 4 August 2008. The main parties criticised this as unconstitutional.[9]

References

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