Bangladesh: Political tension on the rise as 28 killed in violence

Danger of army intervention

At least 28 people were killed including 3 politicians linked to the outgoing Bangaldesh National Party (BNP) led government of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. Hundreds were injured in 4 days of violence sparked by the appointment of KM Hasan, a retired Chief Justice with ties to the out-going government.

Zia’s government, which ended its five year term on Saturday, had invited KM Hasan to head an interim administration to organise Parliamentary elections in January 2007. The opposition alliance, however, refused to accept Hasan as caretaker chief, saying he once belonged to Zia’s party and could therefore not be impartial as required under the Constitution.

The choice of Hasan sparked riots in the capital, Dhaka, and across the country. After violent protests and clashes the caretaker Hasan stepped in order to try to bring an end to the protests.

The violence continued on Sunday and Monday, with riot police firing tear gas, rubber bullets and warning shots in the air to disperse thousands of stone-throwing protesters in Dhaka. Angry mobs smashed or burned vehicles and Zia’s party offices. Dhaka, a city of 10 million people, was virtually cut off from the rest of the country as thousands of protestors blocked highways leading to it. As the violent protests started to decline on Monday, a new crisis developed when all the main parties failed to agree on interim government and President Iajuddin Ahmad took over.

This step of the Bangladeshi President sparked new waves of violent protests. The crisis has worsened as both sides lock horns and do not seem willing to make a compromise to end the present political crises. The opposition alliance led by the Awami League (AL) of Hasina Wajid has rejected the “self-appointment” of the President as head of the interim government. The opposition alliance called a nation-wide strike on Monday and Tuesday to protest against the interim government. Bangladesh was completely shutdown as a result as thousands took part in protests and demonstrations across the country.

Fears of Military Intervention

Opposition parties in Bangladesh are holding back from further violent protests for fear that more bloodshed could result in a military intervention. The main opposition Awami League’s decision to scale back planned protests against the president’s appointment is on their part an attempt to hold back protests. Sakhawat Hussain, a retired brigadier general and defence analyst, described the situation as follows: “Things were going out of control over the last two days. The country was almost on the brink and there were serious rumours that the military was about to be called in to take over control. I was informed that the army was put on an hour’s notice to move which would have been a catastrophe for democracy. The military top brass has temporarily suspended the plan to take over but the possibility of a military intervention is not yet over.” The ex-intelligence chief said “the military generals are waiting for an opportunity to impose military rule in the country and politicians are trying to provide one”. Atuar Rahman, a professor of political science at Dhaka University, said, “an out right condemnation and a more aggressive protest program would have seen violence in the politically polarized nation spiral out of control. The opposition parties have realised that beyond this option (to accept the president as head of a caretaker interim government) is the entry of the military”.

The Awami League stopped short of its earlier pledge to paralyse the nation with an indefinite national strike. In practice all the parties have accepted the interim administration but the political crisis is still far from over. Any rigging and wrong doing during the election can develop an even more serious crisis that can lead to a military intervention. Even a temporary intervention by the armed forces, as during a state of emergency could be a first step towards a possible military coup. The situation is still very unstable and uncertainty dominates the political scene.


Bangladesh has a history of political unrest. It has spent more than 15 years under military rule since independence from Pakistan in 1971. Both Khalid Zia and opposition leader Sheikh Hasina Wajid led a pro-democracy movement in 1990, ousting the last military dictator General Hussain Muhammad Irshad. The two leaders have been locked in political bickering since then.

Old foes gear up

Both the BNP and AL feel they would not be able to muster a majority of votes to win power without alliances with other parties, even of different ideologies. Both parties are preparing for the January 2007 parliamentary elections. Business and industry leaders, bureaucrats and retired army generals are amongst those lobbying for tickets to enter the race for parliamentary seats. They are giving millions to both capitalist parties’ leaders to get a party ticket. Those searching to be made candidates have no ideology, programe or commitment either with these parties or with people. Both the main capitalist parties want maximum big businessmen, industrialists, corrupt bureaucrats and ex army generals to contest elections on their party tickets. Both have formed alliances to contest elections. Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP) led by Khalida Zia is leading a 4 party alliance including the main Islamic Fundamentalist party Jamati Islami. This alliance won the last election in 2001 with more than a two thirds majority. The Awami League led by Hasina Wajid is leading a 14 party alliance including the seven left parties. Both these parties have ruled the country in the last 15 years, 10 years by the BNP and 5 years by the AL. Hasina is the daughter of independence leader Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, killed in 1975 in a military coup led by Ziaur Rehman the husband of Khalida Zia. Ziaur Rehman later killed in another military coup in 1981. The killing of both leaders opened the way into politics for their heirs.

Last year the Awami League and its allies called 18 nationwide strikes and shutdowns against right-wing BNP government. More than 129 people were killed in the violence during these strikes and shutdowns and hundreds injured. These strikes and violent protests will continue even after the elections. The party that loses will not accept the election results and will probably start strikes and shutdowns. There is no fundamental difference in the policies of the both the BNP and AL. Both parties have implement neo- liberal free market economic policies. Both follow IMF and World Bank policies and push through social cuts and privatisation. Both viciously implement anti-working class policies to super exploit the working class. When in government, both use state power to suppress working class movements and protests. Despite its history the Awami League is no different from BNP and provides no real alternative to the working masses.

Increased anger

Workers’ struggles and protests are on the rise in Bangladesh. Textile workers are at the forefront of this new wave of struggles. There is widespread anger and disappointment towards capitalist politicians and parties. Both the main capitalist parties have lost significant support among the working class. The increased strikes, struggles and protest demonstrations are a manifestation of this anger and disillusionment.

The strikes and demonstrations in the textile industries have become a daily routine. There were 102 big strikes in different textile industries and more than 84 protest demonstrations in the last year. The textile workers are fighting against slave-like inhuman working conditions, non-payment of wages and overtime, increased longer working hours and low wages. Other sectors of the working class are also coming out to demonstrate their anger. There will be increased workers struggles and strikes after the elections if their problems and demands are not going to be addressed. If the Awami League win the elections and fail to deliver to the working class and poor, there will be a increased struggles by the working class and of a explosive nature.

Bangladesh has already witnessed huge protest demonstrations against high food prices and shortages of power and fuel. Food prices have risen 45% over the past two months and fuel – particularly diesel – is in short supply. Power is routinely cut for hours every day. Nationwide anger and protest demonstrations have become a focal point over soaring food prices. Respective governments have slashed the subsidy on food items on the dictates of IMF and World Bank. This has resulted in price hikes and some food items have gone out of the reach of the poor masses.

The working class is fighting back. But no real political alternative exists in Bangladesh. The Stalinist Communist Party and Maoist Workers Party have failed to provide an alternative to working class people. Both these main left parties are repeating the same old mistakes of forming alliances with so-called “progressive” capitalist parties. Instead of providing an independent working class alternative and taking a position in defence of the working class and the poor, they are tail-ending the policies of the capitalist Awami League. This approach flows from the incorrect and bankrupt Stalinist “two stages theory”. This idea basically means that before a struggle for socialism can be undertaken in countries like Bangladesh, a modern capitalist society similar to those in western Europe needs to be built. But capitalism in Bangladesh cannot afford such a development either politically or economically.

The crisis in Bangladesh will only end when capitalism is finally overthrown. Capitalism is the system of crisis, poverty and wars. Socialism is the only real alternative to the rotten and crisis ridden capitalist system.

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