Posts

The Road Ahead

In Bangladesh, Facebook has emerged as one of the important political platforms in cyberspace. Parliamentarians, secularists, and religious extremists – everyone resorts to expressing their ideologies through Facebook. The religious extremists have been quite active and managed to instigate communal violence on several occasions, by preaching hatred, creating fake identities or hacking profiles of individuals and impersonating them.

Given this scenario, Humane First Movement, an undertaking largely based on cyberspace, has emerged as a strategic rebuttal to the growing religious fundamentalism & extremism in Bangladesh. The movement was founded by Ajanta Deb Roy, who is a prominent social media activist on issues of politics, religious fundamentalism, racism and human rights.The movement uses social media to spread the message of harmony and peace, and shares inspiring inter-faith harmony stories of individuals from different walks of life.

We, The Hague Peace Projects, have entered a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the movement last year. The goal of the collaboration is to promote social cohesion in Bangladesh, by highlighting some aspects of the movement which we believe are important for individuals and organizations working on peacebuilding; particularly in the areas of initiating dialogues between communities in conflict.

First and foremost, the movement is based online which is crucial given how Facebook is utilized in Bangladesh and among politically active Bangladeshi diaspora. The intention of the movement lies in promoting humanity above all, and it has been doing so quite well for a couple of years now, despite the challenges the movement continues to face.

Another impressive aspect of the movement lies in uplifting class barriers within the movement. Many a times, class barriers play a major role in political movements and only the privileged individuals from a society are given the opportunity to raise their voices. They are delegated the role of “voice of the community”. However, other individuals with equal amounts of drive and determination may not get a chance to express themselves or be assigned equally important roles. However, as we have been observing this movement closely and have been part of their campaigns on a few occasions, we noticed how the prerequisite for playing leading roles in the campaigns is equal to commitment and determination. The movement comprises of individuals from different walks of life, who may or may not be residing in Bangladesh. This is quite impressive in the context of Bangladesh, where privilege often shapes one’s position within socio-political movements and the way class barriers influence social dynamics.

The movement has a long way to go, but given how they are active and passionate, they have the potential to contribute profoundly towards making Bangladeshi society more inclusive and reducing social fragmentation and religious extremism. However, in order to do that, the movement needs allies – they require support on an international level. At The Hague Peace Projects, we are committed to work with them and provide a platform which enables them to address their concerns and challenges.

Mass reporting by extremists have been used against this movement to silence their voices. And this phenomenon is not unique to this case; mass reporting on social media has become a common way to suppress voices to dissent and is something that needs to be resolved to protect the freedom of speech and to make the process of promoting human rights and peace a little easier. As it is, the task of promoting peace and human rights is full of challenges and pitfalls all over the world.

Despite all the challenges, the movement acts as a harbinger of hope to reduce social fragmentation in Bangladesh. And it is for this reason, they deserve all the support they need from the international community of peace and justice.

To know more about Humane First Movement, you can follow them on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/HumaneFirst/?

You can also look them up using the following hashtags:

#BeHumaneFirst, #StandUnitedAgainstHatred, #KeepReligionOutofPolitics

​The Life and Teachings of Lalon Sai

Madeleine Meyjes:

Lalon Sai was a Bengali poet and singer whose work advocated for interfaith harmony in his work. Lalon’s songs have inspired many and his words can be returned to in order when promoting interfaith harmony. Many of Lalon’s teachings were not written but passed down orally. However, some verses have been preserved and from these, we can see Lalon’s rejection of caste and religious differences.

The details of Lalon’s life are widely known: he was born into a Hindu family around 1775. In his youth, he went on a pilgrimage and, after falling ill with smallpox, he was left to die by his companions (Capwell 1974, 129). However, Lalon was found by a Muslim family and nursed back to health. Lalon could no longer return to his Hindu family due to his time spent with Muslims, therefore, he followed the ‘non-conformist’ ways of the Bauls (Capwell 1974, 129).

The Bauls are a Bengali sect who “reject case and religious dogma” and are celebrated for their songs (Capwell 1974, 124). The oppression of lower castes by upper-caste Hindu and Islamic society encouraged the creation of “nonconformist sects” such as the Bauls. Bauls consider themselves “outsiders” of “organized religion” (Dutta 2019, 2). Lalon’s approach is typical of the Bauls with his criticism of the “caste system’ and forms of inequality perpetuated by the social order ( Dutta 2019, 3).

Lalon is an interesting figure because he is considered an advocate for what is now known as syncretism. One of the first definitions of syncretism given in 1971 by Michael Pye as the temporary ambiguous coexistence of elements from diverse religions and other contexts within a coherent religious pattern (Dutta 2019, 29) Although Lalon did not explicitly advocate for the combination of Hinduism and Islam, he did reject the differences between religions and caste. The best description of Lalon’s approach is the “pursuit of the universality of religions” (Togawa 2008, 28). His focus was on the transcendence of differences and the human experience of the divine rather than the institutions of religion.

One of Lalon’s most famous songs questions and rejects caste and religious identity: “If you circumcise the boy, he becomes Muslim…what’s the rule for women?…. Tell me what does caste look like? I’ve never seen it with the eyes of my brother!”

This text is interesting because Lalon questions the divisions used to separate followers of different religions and notes their arbitrary nature. In his work Lalon appears to apply a practical element to the apparently inherent differences in people in different faiths and castes: he questions the differences that he cannot see and feel between people and questions why there should be divisions between people of different castes and religions. Furthermore, Lalon recognizes that the “multiplicities in religion are created by men for their own interest” (Iseni and Hossain 2017,17)

His expressions of syncretism in his song and the example of his life can serve as inspiration and guidance to communities experiencing interfaith conflict. Lalon lived his life and voiced the teachings of the Baul in a humanistic manner, He adopted the Baul ways in the attempt to “transcend the boundaries of ego, sense of achievement, social hierarchy and unearned privileges” (Dutta 2019, 14). His teachings can be revisited and applied today in order to solve issues of religious discrimination.

In researching Lalon, it becomes evident that his teaching continues to have a universal value. Internationally scholars continue to refer to his work, despite the sparsity of translations, and use his words in their study of the religious history of the region of his birth, syncretism, mysticism, and reconciliation in interfaith conflict.

Bibliography

Capwell, Charles. “The Esoteric Belief of the Bauls of Bengal.” The Journal of Asian Studies (pre-1986)33, no. 2 (1974): 255-264.

Hossain, Amir and Iseni, Arburim.”Mysticism in John Donne and Lalon Shah: Similarities and Differences”. Angloramericanae Journal 2, no. 1. (2017):9-20

Togawa, Masahiko. “Syncretism Revisited: Hindus and Muslims over a Saintly Cult in

Bengal.” Numen55, no. 1 (2008): 27-43

Uttaran Dutta, and Mohan Jyoti Dutta. “Songs of the Bauls: Voices from the Margins as

Transformative Infrastructures.” Religions10, no. 5 (2019): 335.

Image Courtesy: Dhaka Tribune.

About the writer:

Madeleine Meyjes is currently pursuing a BA in International Studies in the Netherlands. Her interests include linguistics, economics, and politics. She is currently volunteering with the Hague Peace Projects and is assisting the Bangladesh workgroup with research.

A Poet of Bangladesh’s Past and Present – a Tribute to Kazi Nazrul Islam on his 120th Birthday

“Of equality I sing: where all barriers and differences between man and man have vanished, where Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians have mingled together.”[i]


Bangladesh’s national poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam (*1899, †1976), sings of equality. He sings of peace. He sings, humbly, of respect and love for humanity, and for his homeland. He sings, hurt, of the divisions he has experienced, the hatred that pervades society. “I have turned mad having seen what I have seen, having heard what I have heard.”[ii] He sings, feisty, of revolt against oppression, and of rebellion against chains of ignorance. Of course, among his four thousand works, not all call out for a common humanity, but it is because of his strife for change that Kazi Nazrul Islam came to be known as the “Rebel Poet”.

 

His poetry is beautiful even when translated. As a non-Bengali native, it is impossible for me to know how unconceivably beautiful his language must be in his own tongue. His writings are flawless; even his earliest prose is so perfect that no effort could have improved it any further. It flows, so I was told, like a fountain, with a rhythm that wraps around the audience like a warm coat, and at the same time rallies every being to stand up for their rights, fuelling their drive to break out of the familiarity of oppression and ignorance. It is said that his language burns with a flame that is unprecedented in Bengali literature. Nazrul became Bangladesh’s national poet because of how uniquely it lets Bangladesh come to life – its nature, its objects, its symbols (both Hindu and Muslim!), its historical heroes (again, both Hindu and Muslim!), its contemporary hurt. Through his influence on new generations of poets, Bengali poetry as an art came closer to life.

 

Kazi Nazrul Islam was known as the “Rebel Poet” not merely because of his fiery language, or because of his desire to liberate Bengal from the British. Nazrul was a rebel because he refused to bow to anyone.[iii] It is true that he was a devout Muslim, and a proud Bengali – what he refused, however, was to be shoved into a categorization that he would have to be loyal to as an end in itself. In a speech delivered in Kolkata’s Albert Hall on December 15, 1929, he said:

 

“Just because I was born in this country and society, I do not consider myself to be solely a subject of this nation and my community. I belong to every country and everyone. The caste, society, country or religion within which I was born was determined by blind luck. It’s only because I managed to rise above these trappings that I could become a poet.”[iv]

 

Though Nazrul was not uncriticized or unopposed in his time, he gave people little reason to hate him. A devout preacher of religious symbols, he applauded religion if used as a language of love, and praised practices of various religions. Instead, it was fanaticism, superstition and ritualistic behaviour he spoke out against:

 

“Do consider the honour of martyrdom
more glorious than slavery,
Consider the sword to be nobler than
the belt of the peon,
Do not pray to God for anything petty;
Bow not your head to anyone except God.”[v]

 

“I am a poet of the present, and not a prophet of the future.”[vi] Nazrul may have claimed that his time may pass, that his writings would become outdated and inapplicable. Considering contemporary incidences of hatred in Bangladesh – riots, violent protests and extra-judicial killings – it is clear Nazrul’s dream has yet to be realized. As the national poet of Bangladesh, his poetry is taught in educational curricula, the national anthem of Bangladesh is a Nazrul song, and his person is celebrated on its own national holiday (today). Why his message has not pervaded society remains a mystery. After all, while Nazrul’s language may be magical and enchanting, his messages are never hidden. The audience need never engage long with his material. Instead, his poetry has been said to “communicate even before [it] is understood.”[vii]

It is true that his memory and dreams carry on in contemporary Bangladesh. In 2012, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister prominently declared:

 

“We want to build a Bangladesh as dreamt by national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam […] breaking the vicious cycle of poverty. We want to build a Bangladesh where every citizen will enjoy equal and basic rights. There will be no difference between the citizens. Women would enjoy their just rights. I urge all to work towards building such a Bangladesh. May Bangladesh Live Forever.”[viii]

 

On this day, his 120th birthday, we celebrate his legacy. Yet merely praising him with words is not enough, instead, our love for Nazrul should extend beyond a dull admiration, and encompass the spirit of rebellion that is so famously attributed to him. Our compassion should rise above the boundaries created by religion, caste, and social status, and should extend to joint humanness. Today, the rebel poet still has a cause to rebel for.

 

 

 

[i] Islam, Kazi Nazrul. Rebel and Other Poems. Sahitya Akademi, 2000, page 37

[ii] Choudhury, Serajul Islam. “The Blazing Comet.” New Age Xtra. June 1, 2006. Accessed May 16, 2019.

[iii] Choudhury, Serajul Islam. “The Blazing Comet.” New Age Xtra. June 1, 2006. Accessed May 16, 2019.

[iv] Kazi, Ankan. “Diminishing a Poet.” The Indian Express, June 14, 2017. Accessed May 16, 2019.

[v] Choudhury, Serajul Islam. “The Blazing Comet.” New Age Xtra. June 1, 2006. Accessed May 16, 2019.

[vi] Choudhury, Serajul Islam. “The Blazing Comet.” New Age Xtra. June 1, 2006. Accessed May 16, 2019.

[vii] Choudhury, Serajul Islam. “The Blazing Comet.” New Age Xtra. June 1, 2006. Accessed May 16, 2019.

[viii] Hasina, Sheikh. “113th Birth Anniversary of Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam and 90th Year of His Poem ‘Rebel’.” Address, India-Bangladesh Joint Celebration, Dhaka, May 25, 2012.

Image source: https://www.calcuttaweb.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=1127

Salute Avijit and Bonya

By: Shucheesmita Simonti.

It was perhaps the 27th or 28th of February when I first saw the news. It was extremely terrifying to hear about an American-Bangladeshi couple who had been brutally attacked at the Ekushey Book Fair by Radical Islamists. The husband, Avijit Roy, did not survive the attack. His wife, Bonya Ahmed, was in a critical condition. Their crime was simply that they were critical thinkers: they were atheists who advocated for freedom of expression and promoted scientific thinking. Avijit Roy was a well-known writer, blogger, and activist who founded Mukto-mona, an online platform for freethinkers. Bonya Ahmed is a humanist activist, blogger and author who continues to work towards their shared goals.

Avijit Roy and Rafida Bonya (courtesy: photos collected)

Thinking back to 2015, I recall many expressed their outrage on social media over this incident, people gathered to mourn. But it was not enough, the outrage was not as widespread as it should have been. In Bangladesh, many are afraid to express their opinions freely, especially on social media. After all, expressing one’s opinion has turned out to be one of the riskiest acts in Bangladesh, in fact it can cost you your life. And when it comes to issues such as atheism and LGTBQ rights, many are even afraid to express solidarity even if they empathize.

I will not propose any theories here or discuss legal conventions, but just put forward a very basic argument. Nobody deserves to lose their lives for being atheists, or otherwise. This is our basic human right- the right to live!

But it seems when it comes to the right to live, bloggers/minorities/secularists/atheists are at a high risk of losing their lives. I felt the year 2015 was one of the most terrifying ones I’ve lived through, as there were several bloggers and publishers who were attacked in 2015. The attacks kept happening- one after another bloggers were targeted and killed.

Many other bloggers were threatened and feared for their lives and fled abroad- perhaps never to return to the country that was once their own. Some of them left alone, and some managed to take their spouse and/or children. They left in a hurry and continue to struggle. It is not easy when you are forced to leave your country because your choices deprive you of your right to exist in the country that you were born in, grew up in, lived in for a long time if not your whole life!

If you don’t leave, you cannot live.
With regard to Avijit Roy, I can only say that the attackers may have succeeded in killing him, but the light of critical thinking that he tried to ignite still lives on. He may have lost his life, but his work will continue to inspire youths who want to think critically.

“Please understand our world in its rich and messy complexity; hold your politicians responsible; inform yourself, question, and deepen your understanding; and support the journalists and the people who are putting their lives on the line by helping us to make sense of this complex world—it matters. Avijit Roy was silenced, but I have a voice. Why me—Why not me—Why not you?”- Bonya Ahmed’s TedX Talk.
I would also like to express my thoughts on Bonya Ahmed, who continues to work tirelessly to achieve their shared dreams.

Rafida Bonya Ahmed giving a TEDx talk.

I listened to her TedX talk, and I have been fortunate enough to meet her in person. She is extremely brave and inspiring. The courage and motivation that she exhibits in continuing to work for causes she is passionate about, is an inspiration for not only other Bangladeshis, but activists who have been punished by the state, or attacked by the opposition, or forced to flee their homeland for expressing their thoughts. She is a living example many of us can draw strength from.

Salute Avijit and Bonya.

 

 

 


*The opinions expressed here are solely that of the writer.

Get in touch with the writer!  | E-mail : s.simonti@thehaguepeace.org

A Political Culture Like a Bare-Knuckle Fight – The Upcoming Bangladeshi Parliamentary Elections (Part 3 of 3)

Bangladesh until 1991 was a military regime (1). The traces of such former militarization are ever-present in society and crystallize through the need to stay in power that surges once elections take place. In 2013, a Freedom in the World report indicated that Bangladesh’s political situation was seemingly “ready to spin out of control” (1). On the one hand, issues such as corruption, lack of press freedom and poorly working checks and balances interfere with the fairness of regularly held elections (1). On the other hand, the political culture in itself is based on antagonization (2). Political conflicts are in a perpetually escalated state and are carried out not over ideological differences, but as vicious cycles of revenge and assertion (2).

While political agendas and critical topics may change, what persists is nonetheless a deep-rooted political culture that “resembles a bare-knuckle fight—bloody, vicious, without rules, and sometimes fatal.” (2)

This last of three articles (read here part 1 and part 2) on the Bangladeshi elections attempts to understand the source of this political and electoral violence by drawing on various theories of violence and reports on oppositional oppression.

 

Symbolic Image. The last bare-knuckle fight, Farnborough, Hampshire, 17th April 1860 (1951).

 

Political violence comes in various forms. One form, for instance, expresses itself in arguments on differences of opinion. Arguably, although arguments should serve the purpose of convincing one another, certain political debates at higher level are mere assertions and proclamations of opinions, meant to continue for an indefinite amount of time. Second, political violence can take the form of physical clashes. This term covers street fights, attacks on rallies, strikes, protests, sieges and others (2). Such clashes are not primarily driven by political opposition towards each other, but by internal dynamics of being united against an alienated opponent. In Bangladesh, the second form of political violence takes prominence. As Moniruzzaman observes, “institutional interaction between parties is largely overshadowed by non-institutional methods of interaction” (2). Hence, the population takes matters into its own hands, as the prospect of elites securing the country’s governance is in the stars. What follows is an assertion of persistence, often taking the form of attacking another party’s rally, which in turn is followed by a demonstration of strength by those that were attacked. To illustrate the dimensions of the physical clashes, one needs only look at the 2016 Union Parishad Election, in which electoral violence reached a record high when over one hundred people died in fights between Awami League and BNP supporters (3).

 

Theories of political violence rarely cover all aspects of case studies, and it is thus natural that Bangladesh is no exception. In fact, Bangladesh’s electoral violence rather conforms to its own logic. Most researchers assume that political violence is merely temporal, applied to defy general norms only until a certain goal has been reached, namely that of inclusion of deviant separate ideology. Violence by political parties in Bangladesh, however, is not a means leading to an end – it is the end itself.

In ideal constitutional regimes, according to Talcott Parsons, citizens and their political representatives come to a tacit agreement: As long as one side exercises restraint in its political demands, the other side will in return exercise restraint in oppressing and coercing (4). Take away some of the two ingredients for a more or less violence-free society, however, the situation becomes tricky: In Bangladesh, parties upon assuming office immediately marginalize and harass the opposition (5). This phenomenon is common to all major parties. “Former opposition parties [are] therefore quick to take revenge on their outgoing rivals virtually every time party governments changed through elections […]” (5). What results is a vicious cycle: without the above-mentioned promise of restraint, oppositional parties frequently cite repression by the ruling party as a legitimization of violence. The ruling party, scared of being repressed itself if it was to lose office, harshens its measures of oppression of the opposition, yet again providing the opposition with even more cause for violence (2). Another aspect worth investigating is that violence is usually interpreted as a danger signal. Political violence, as argued by Coser, can be seen as an “indicator of how serious the group is in pressing its claim” (6). But in Bangladesh, erupting violence is much more than that. It is the status quo, habituated in politics. It is the path political figures take if they want to be heard or taken seriously. Having become the language in which politics speak, political violence in Bangladesh is institutionalized.

Causes of violence are deep-rooted, and examining them fully is a major task of its own. However, some conclusions can be drawn on the origins of political violence based on the last fifty years of Bangladeshi history. Generally, the 1971 Liberation War against Pakistan is seen as a crucial development among researchers. After its independence, the whole of Bangladesh was under adrenaline, with large quantities of weapons floating around deprived of their original purpose. The newly founded Bangladesh quickly turned into a military regime; the first government introduced a policy that provided Members of Parliament with light machine guns. In turn, a party-internal policy led to arms being distributed to the student front of the ruling party in order to secure the public (2). The culture of armed violence is thus not just a remnant of the Liberation War that is still within society, but was actively introduced by the first government in order to build a nation (2). Of course, this explanation does not tackle the issue fully.

In early November at an election rally, the alliance Jatiya Oikyafront of which the BNP is a member turned to voters calling to “stand strong”, reminding voters that they “are the owner of the state” (7). Although such proclamations in theory reflect fundamental concepts of democracy, the Oikyafront’s speech threatened to intensify agitation and take to the street if its demands were not heard (7). The BNP’s Standing Committee Member Hossain warned: “Give us a solution or else get ready to face a movement” (7). Although early analyses of the upcoming 2018 elections gasped at their peaceful nature and reported that violence was unfolding slower than had been expected, expressions of violence are thus not at all absent.

 

Disclaimer: The author is not an expert on political violence, and the analysis thus draws on conclusions of other authors. The opinion portrayed in this article does not promise to have covered the case study perfectly in all aspects, but hopes to have given a general overview of the problematic and an introduction to the matter.

 

 

 

Sources

  • Riaz, Ali. “Bangladesh’s Failed Election.” Journal of Democracy 25(2) (2014): 119-130.
  • Moniruzzaman, Mohammed. “Party Politics and Political Violence in Bangladesh: Issues, Manifestation and Consequences.” South Asian Survey 16(1) (2009): 81-99.
  • Bangladesh braces for final round of union council elections that have left over 100 dead. Bangladesh News 24.
  • Parsons, Talcott. “Some reflections on the place of force in social process.” Sociological theory and modern society (1967): 264-96.
  • Lorch, Jasmin. “Elections in Bangladesh: Political Conflict and the Problem of Credibility.” E-International Relations (2014): 1-7.
  • Coser, Lewis. Men of Ideas: a Sociologist’s View (1965). New York: Simon & Schuster (1997).
  • Movement if talks fail. The Daily Star.
  • Image

Who is Who? The Upcoming Bangladeshi Parliamentary Elections (Part 2 of 3)

The party horizon in Bangladesh can be complicated at first sight. The landscape is dominated by parties teaming up for their campaigns to secure a two-thirds majority: The United National Alliance, the Bangladesh National Alliance, the Islamic Democratic Alliance, the Jatiya Oikyafront … (7). Overall, over one hundred and fifty parties are said to exist, each with their own somewhat unique program. The alliances tend to be led by a strong party that offers seats to smaller parties in exchange for cooperation. In the following, we will take a look at some of the major players of the upcoming December 30th elections, and consider what conclusions can be drawn from statements made on social media.
Read here part 1 of this blog series

Who is who?

The Awami League (AL)

Bangladesh Awami League - Wikipedia

The name translates to “People’s League”. Its leader is Sheikh Hasina, who assumed this position in the 1980s. In the previous elections, the party won 234 seats in the parliament (79.14% of votes), and while this result was criticized, it remained uncontested.

The Awami League is historically a strong party, with five of its leaders having assumed the position of President of Bangladesh and four that of Prime Minister. Politically, it believes in the ideology of “Bengali first”, taking an ethnic stance, and officially stands in support of secularism (1).

During its current rule, on the one hand, the AL is said to have successfully furthered its development agenda, and the international community has stated that it is pleased with the way the government is handling the Rohingya crisis (2).

On the other hand, the AL is allegedly pursuing a one-party rule, and has faced allegations of corruption. Potentially the biggest flaw in its previous rule are its harsh measures in securing alleged public safety, which include imposing media bans and applying lethal force (3). Regarding the former, the government has sharpened the restrictions on media with the 2018 “Digital Security Act”, which Human Rights organisations have harshly criticized. Regarding the latter, when the road traffic situation in the capital Dhaka deteriorated culminating in the death of two students in collisions with a bus, a minister’s reaction was interpreted as his dismissal of the deaths. Ultimately, protestors effectively “took control” of Dhaka’s traffic system in a series of protests against not only insufficient infrastructure, but the legitimacy of the government itself (4).

In regards to whether the AL is likely to secure another victory in the elections, an anonymous user on the internet forum Quora wrote:

Awami League is less corrupt than BNP. […] There might be big cases on corruption by [Awami League] government entities, […] but that is in their ancestral gene. […] They might be embezzling money but no party is truly immune to this.” “[The] average Bangladeshi has seen significant improvement in their quality of life due to infrastructure projects and the big push on IT. […] Awami League’s success can also be attributed to natural advancements in technology that they just had the foresight of adopting and the long-term period they have had to rule, learn and adapt.” “[If] we just take a look at the statistics Awami league has improved Bangladesh like no other party and every time BNP comes to power the economic growth percentage of Bangladesh decreases […] (5)

 

Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)

Bangladesh Nationalist Party - WikipediaThe BNP holds the record of being largest opposition in the history of Bangladesh. Due to its boycott of the 2014 elections, the BNP currently holds no seats in the parliament. In the 9th parliamentary election, its popularity had already decreased from holding 193 seats to just 30 (3). Politically, the BNP pursues a nationalist policy under the geographic ideology “Bangladeshi first” (1).

The BNP’s greatest weakness is the crisis surrounding the situation of its leader, Khaleda Zia. Zia served as Prime Minister in 1991-1996, and again from 2001-2006, but due to allegations of corruption was sentenced to jail first for five years, then in a recent appeal case to a increased sentence of ten years (3). The Bangladeshi constitution itself in Article 66(2)(d) states that

A person shall be disqualified for election as, or for being, a member of Parliament who has been, on conviction for a criminal offence involving moral turpitude, sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than two years, unless a period of five years has elapsed since his release.

Given the focus on constitutionality of the elections, it thus seems unlikely that Zia will even be eligible to run as a candidate. Further, the violent nature of the boycott of the previous elections does not serve as a basis for a convincing election campaign.

 

 

The Jatiya Party (Ershad)

Jatiya Party (Ershad) - Wikipedia

The Jatiya Party is currently represented by 34 seats in the parliament, having claimed 11.31% of the votes in the previous elections. It follows the BNP in its pursuit of “Bangladeshi first”. Its current leader Hussain Muhammed Ershad only assumed the position in 2013, but the party is historically known for having usurped state power in 1982 by a coup d’état, after which it ruled for the brief period of a year.

 

Jamaat-e-Islami (JI)

The JI is a curious case, as its loyalty is said to rotate among political orientations. Although it primarily focuses on promoting “Islam first” (1), it allied with the BNP in 2001 who pursues what is arguably a different ideology (3). In an increasingly Islamised society, the JI could indeed secure a significant amount of seats, but its history imposes serious obstacles: In Bangladesh’s Liberation War on 1971, which until day remains a topic relevant to the country’s identity, members of a militia allied with the JI fought alongside Pakistan and participated in mass atrocities involving mass murder and alleged genocide (3). The JI “continues to claim that it is innocent of any atrocities, and has never apologized”, and most ruling parties seem to have decided to ignore the issue (3).

 

What is the first prognosis?

Another user on the forum “Quora”, in responding to the question which party is likely to come first in the elections, posted the following statement:

Bangladeshi people have a record of voting alternately for Awami League and BNP since return to democracy in 1990. People don’t trust either party to govern for more than one term without trying to set up a one party state. Based on the above, the BNP is likely to win as it’s their ‘turn’. (6)

However, simply looking at social media might not give a representative portrayal of the situation on the ground. As social scientist Manuel Castells argues, “social media triggers some of the basic human emotions”, namely anger and fear, whereby the average user will primarily come across outrage (4).