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Bangladesh: Jamaat Could Make Political Inroads Without Spot on Ballot

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
2015-12-09
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Bangladeshi men line up to cast their votes during mayoral elections in Dhaka, April 28, 2015.
Bangladeshi men line up to cast their votes during mayoral elections in Dhaka, April 28, 2015.
AFP

Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s largest faith-based party linked to violence and militancy, will not have any candidates on municipal ballots this year, but could benefit nevertheless from an unhindered election on Dec. 30, experts claim.

The party could see members elected as ward councilors because those races are non-partisan, meaning candidates do not declare their political affiliations.

Analysts told BenarNews that such participation at the grass-roots level could help curb militancy among Jamaat partisans, in the wake of a 2013 court ruling that withdrew Jamaat’s registration as a political party, and the subsequent prosecution of party leaders as war criminals by the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

“If Jamaat is denied political space, they will choose militancy. Not only Jamaat, but even the BNP or the Awami League will do so in the absence of democratic space,” said Afsan Chowdhury, a professor and political analyst, referring to the ruling Awami League and the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

“As Jamaat has no candidate, they are likely to lend support to the BNP’s mayoral candidates. They have organizations at the grassroots; so their candidates would naturally contest as ward councilors,” Mahbubur Rahman, a member of the BNP’s highest policy making standing committee, told BenarNews.

Rahman said municipal elections could create an opportunity for the BNP and Jamaat to mobilize at the grassroots level, where the ruling Awami League had been trying to consolidate.

The non-partisan elections are likely to counter violence, creating a festive atmosphere across the country, political observers and party leaders said. Voters in 235 municipalities will elect mayors along with 1,958 ward councilors, to include 737 positions reserved for women.

Elections can aid peace efforts

Chowdhury said some of Jamaat supporters, but not the whole party, could not turn militant if they were totally left out of the election process.

“Militancy has been in the Bengal region for over 200 years when the British arrived. We have been a long standing militant nation as our history is associated with different forms of militancy such of saints’ revolt, left party militancy and so forth,” said Chowdhury, now a faculty member of the Brac University.

Meanwhile, a majority of Bangladeshis find it difficult to accept Jamaat because of its role in the country’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.

“So, rule of law is the solution. There must be legal framework in which the political parties would operate,” he said.

Jamaat is blamed for large-scale violence, including murders of several police personnel across the country, ahead of the January 2014 general election that was boycotted by BNP. Militants threw Molotov cocktails at buses, trucks and trains to stop the vote that gave the Awami League power for a second consecutive term.

Jamaat termed ‘criminal party’

A war crimes tribunal in Bangladesh labeled Jamaat a “criminal party” that aided the occupying Pakistani army in committing war crimes during the conflict in 1971.

Three of Jamaat’s high-ranking leaders have been executed while more top leaders have been imprisoned on war crimes and charges of crimes against humanity.

The party’s organizational structure has broken since 2010, when the government initiated the trials of war criminals.

The Awami League alleges that Jamaat and ally BNP have been behind the series of violent attacks throughout the country since Italian aid worker Tavella Cesare was gunned down in Dhaka on Sept. 28.

The Islamic State (IS) extremist group has claimed it carried out that and other recent attacks. But Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal on several occasions has denied that IS has a presence in Bangladesh.

He told BenarNews that Jamaat had been carrying out terrorist acts to thwart the trials of the war criminals and executions of condemned men.

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