Voters in Bangladesh go to the polls on Sunday (18 February) to elect 300 members to the country's new parliament.
Voters in Bangladesh go to the polls on Sunday (18 February) to elect 300 members to the country's new parliament. It is the first time in six years that Bangladesh will have chosen a representative assembly.
SYNOPSIS: Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, is just in its eighth year of nationhood. In January, 1972, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman assumed the post of Prime Minister. Fourteen months later came the country's first, and so far only, general elections Sheikh Mujib, who had led the fight for independence, also led his Awami League party to an overwhelming victory. The result was a reflection of the enormous popular appeal he held at the time. Sheikh Mujib said later the main reason for the victory was the people's love for him and his love for him and his love for the people. Just over half of the thirty-four elector voted in the election.
The early years of Sheikh Mujib's rule were encouraging, and in April, 1974, a visit by President Bhutto confirmed Pakistan's recognition of Bangladesh.
Later that year came disastrous floods. Over twenty million people were affected. Large areas of agricultural land were flooded and crops were destroyed. Thousands starved to death. The food shortages came at a time when Sheikh Mujib was facing growing political opposition -- both from the extreme left and right wings. A state of emergency was declared and fundamental rights suspended. Sheikh Mujib assumed absolute powers and excluded all other parties from government.
In August 1975, Sheikh Mujib was assassinated in a coup. After another coup and further political confusion and uncertainly, the Chief of Army Staff, Major-General Ziaur Rahman emerged as the new leader. He has been in power since then.
In early 1977, Bangladeshis voted in local government elections. A general election due for that date had been postponed indefinitely. Six months earlier political parties were given permission to operate -- provided they had government approval of their manifesto.
At this rally, just over a year ago, General Zia announced that the present general election would take place. A few months later he himself won massive backing in Bangladesh's first direct presidential elections.
In the present elections, the main opposition is expected to come from the left-of-centre Awami league. Its Party President is Abdul Malek Ukil. The Awami League is one of three major parties, all of whom are contesting every seat.
Retired General Osmany, who challenged General Zia unsuccessfully in the Presidential elections, heads one of the other main groups, the Janatha Party.
Thirty-one parties are contesting the seats. But observers say that it seems like General Zia's Bangladesh National Party will dominated the elections. As president, his relationship with the new parliament has yet to be worked out.