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Islam and Politics ( 29 Dec 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Bangladesh votes for secular, egalitarian values, democratic governance, rejects Islamic fundamentalism

Clear mandate for secular, egalitarian values, democratic governance

 Editorial in New Age, Dhaka, Bangladesh


While the results are yet to be officially declared at the time this editorial goes to print, the trends clearly indicate a massive landslide victory for the Awami League-led alliance in the elections to the ninth Jatiya Sangsad. Despite allegations by the BNP of irregularities in some constituencies — which should be investigated by the Election Commission — Monday’s voting appears to have been largely peaceful and generally free.

   The huge voter turnout in these elections has been a manifestation of the people’s rejection of authoritarian rule and aspiration for rule of law, in the first place. The manner in which people came out in droves on Monday, rejoicing in their constitutional right to elect their own representatives is also indicative of a resounding verdict in favour of democratic governance.

   Through this landslide verdict in favour of the Awami League and its allies, the people have delivered a clear mandate not only for the Awami League-led alliance, but more specifically for the slogans that Awami League has chanted for years. Thus, a majority of the voters have resoundingly spoken in favour of the spirit of the war of national independence: the quest for an egalitarian society built on the principles of secular democracy.

   In the specific context of the Awami League’s election promises, the people have sought respite from the high prices of essentials, have placed their faith in the party’s promise to expand agricultural subsidies and support, ensure equitable economic growth, and realise their much vaunted demand for the trial of war criminals of 1971.

   After 1973, this is the first time that the Awami League is set to come to power with a two-thirds majority, bestowing on them the mandate and the legal means of constitutionalising the politics they have professed to espouse in the intervening period.

   However, the biggest challenge that Awami League has been exposed to is properly handling the huge parliamentary strength, particularly given the fact that two-thirds majorities in Bangladesh, and other South Asian states, have often failed to behave democratically, particularly in terms of accommodating dissenting views of the opposition parties on the one hand and the critical media on the other. We only hope that the Awami League will take lessons from history and contribute to the institulisation of a sound parliamentary system of governance in the country.


Breakaway from patriarchal view of female leadership


Whether women can make better leaders has not been carefully studied in Bangladesh, either. Although the country was under female leadership in the past three political governments, people still seem to have doubt about the effectiveness of female political leadership, write SSM Sadrul Huda, Ayesha Tabassum, Dr Jashim Uddin Ahmed and Dr Salim Rashid


FEMALE involvement in public life has not always been welcome, nor has it been appreciated, in the male-dominated society of Bangladesh. The question of female political leadership has thus been questioned. Their capability has also been underestimated. That’s why when the question of leadership arises the prominent choice proves to be a male figure.

   Whether women can make better leaders has not been carefully studied in Bangladesh, either. Although the country was under female leadership in the past three political governments, people still seem to have doubt about the effectiveness of female political leadership. In the 2008 parliamentary elections, 50 female leaders are contesting for 55 seats. The Bangladesh Awami League has promised in its election manifesto that it will increase the proportion of reserved seat for women in parliament to 33 per cent. The party has also pledged that, in direct parliament voting, 100 seats will be reserved for women. The election manifesto of the other major political party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has no mention of women’s seats.

   In these elections, about 30 per cent of the voters will cast their votes for the first time. Interestingly, the number of women voters exceeds that of their male counterparts. The political parties are giving more importance to the new voters; in fact, one of the two major political parties has dedicated its election manifesto to the young voters. A sizeable section of the young voters has different ideas and ideals from those of the older generation. In most cases, they hate religious extremism.

   A study was conducted to identify the acceptance level using a judgemental sampling of over 300 persons from urban educated class who are voting for the first time. The data were collected through a structured questionnaire survey. The survey was conducted by the Centre for Policy Research and Social Responsibility. The survey was conducted during the first two weeks of December and asked 15 questions. Opinions were sought on, whether is it practically possible for woman to lead the nation, whether the previous female political leadership was satisfactory in Bangladesh, whether the previous female political leadership is responsible for present political crisis, what are the good leadership qualities and whether women can possess all those qualities compared to men, whether is it difficult for women to achieve leadership even if they possess all those qualities.

   The demographic profile of the sample is as follows. They comprised of 65.3 per cent male and 34.6 per cent female. Majority of the respondents, that is around 85 per cent respondents were from 18-25 age group and rest of the respondents were from 26-30 age group. The respondents’ city living duration also varied, 16.8 per cent were living in city for 1-5 years, 12.1 per cent 6-10 years, 28.2 per cent 11-15 years, 36.2 per cent 16-25 years, and 6.7 per cent living in city for more than 25 years. Among the respondents, the majority, 74.3 per cent were students, 15.1 per cent service holders, 6.6 per cent businessmen, and 2.6 per cent housewives. The respondents were from different educational background. A large number of respondents that is 68.2 per cent were below graduate, 22.3 per cent graduate and another 5.4 per cent completed master’s degree. Most of the respondents that is 85.5 per cent were Muslim, 11.9 per cent Hindu, 1.3 per cent Christian, and 0.7 per cent Buddhist.

   Among the respondents, 86.7 per cent were unmarried and only 13.2 per cent married. More than 69 per cent of the participants agreed that they have respect for religious customs. In response to the question if religion accepts woman political leadership, 58.9 per cent said yes and 41.1 per cent no. Only 21.3 per cent of the participants had particular political ideology and 78.7 per cent did not have any particular political ideology. The key findings of the survey are presented here.

   Among all the respondents, 50.7 per cent mentioned that it is possible for woman to lead the nation successfully. Of them 42.4 per cent are male and 65.5 per cent female. Among all the respondents, 46.8 per cent disagreed regarding the statement that previous female political leadership was satisfactory in Bangladesh. Among them 56.6 per cent are male respondents and 34.7 per cent are female respondents. Among all the respondents, 54 per cent agreed that previous female political leadership is responsible for present political crisis. Again the percentage of male and female agreement is respectively 55.5 per cent and 50 per cent.

   The respondents were asked to identify good leadership qualities. Among all the respondents, 64.4 per cent identified honesty as the most important quality, 24.5 per cent patriotism, 12.4 per cent hard work, 12.2 per cent intelligence, 11.6 per cent decision-making power, 10.3 per cent control ability, 9.8 per cent analytical ability, 9.6 per cent communication skill, 9.6 per cent personality, and only 3.5 per cent statesmanship. Among all the participants, 49.7 per cent said most of the times women can have all the abovementioned qualities. Around 40 per cent of the male and 67.3 per cent of the female participants said most of the times women can have all the abovementioned qualities. Among all the participants, 43.4 per cent mentioned that achieving political leadership for a female is difficult most of the times even if she possesses all the good qualities in comparison with man. The degree of optimism was higher among the female respondents in this regard with 60.6 per cent saying it is possible for the female to become leader whereas their male counterparts showed slightly less optimism with 55.5 per cent agreeing to the statement.

   According to the survey result, 48.4 per cent of the participants mentioned that it is generally possible for women to do all jobs that a man can do. Among all the participants, 63.1 per cent agreed that men and women can do a job with equal level of efficiency. Around 64.2 per cent participants agreed that men and women should have equal footing in every sphere of life.

   It is evident from the present study that female political leadership is generally accepted among the urban educated class though the degree of acceptance is different between male and female group. The attitudes of male respondents are less favourable towards female political leadership than their female counterparts. This present study can be an evidence of women empowerment in society. It can be also an indicator of changed attitude of the people towards women. Further research is needed to explore more of this issue.

   SSM Sadrul Huda is an assistant professor at East West University Bangladesh, Ayesha Tabassum a lecturer at Eastern University, Dr Jashim Uddin Ahmed an assistant professor at North South University, and Dr Salim Rashid is a professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors alone and not of the institution they represent



Secular Party Wins in Bangladesh



December 29, 2008


NEW DELHI — After two years of army-backed emergency rule, democracy returned to Bangladesh on Monday as voters flocked to the polls to choose their next government in a largely peaceful and in many places festive atmosphere. Early, unofficial results suggested that the secular Awami League party had secured an overwhelming majority.

According to the Associated Press, the election official Humayun Kabir said the Awami League, in alliance with a smaller party called Jatiya, won a two-thirds majority in Parliament after votes in most districts had been counted. "This has been a very free and fair election," Mr. Kabir told reporters at his office in Dhaka. The league’s leader, Sheikh Hasina, urged her supporters to remain calm and off the streets, fearing that any victory rallies would result in clashes with rivals.


Ms. Hasina, a former prime minister, has promised to quash Islamist extremist groups in the largely Muslim country.


She has been a target of the extremists’ ire already, having been wounded by a grenade at a 2004 rally in an attack linked to Islamist radicals that killed 23 people.


If the apparently high turnout — election officials said it could exceed 70 percent — was an endorsement of elected civilian rule, it was also a challenge to the nation’s political leaders to conduct themselves better than they had in recent years.


“I know politics in this country is dirty,” said Monira Khanam, 22, a medical student who voted in the capital, Dhaka. “Now that the country is returning to democracy after two years, I expect politicians will behave better. It is out of this expectation that I’ve come out to vote.”


These national elections had to be postponed for nearly two years because of repeated, violent clashes between rival parties. The army-backed government, in taking over in January 2007, banned political activity altogether, took 11 million fake names off the voter rolls, and arrested scores of politicians and businessmen on corruption charges.


According to human rights groups, it also arrested people arbitrarily and, on some occasions, tortured them.


Most of all, in its bid to clean up politics, the caretaker government sought to drive the two women who head the country’s two principal parties out of politics forever: Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Ms. Hasina. But the leaders refused to go into exile and even after they were jailed on corruption charges, they fought to be let out and campaign for office.


The government relented, releasing both women this year on bail as their cases wound through the courts.


It is unclear whether the loser will accept the election verdict or resort to street violence as in the past. Also unknown is whether the army will fully give up power and go back into the barracks.


“It appears that Sheikh Hasina is heading for a landslide victory in a free and fair election observed by hundreds of foreign and thousands of local observers at a time when Bangladesh faces some unprecedented economic, political and security challenges,” said Farooq Sobhan, a former foreign secretary, who had supported the caretaker regime’s crackdown on politics two years ago.


“There are high expectations, both inside and outside the country, almost on the scale of the Obama victory,” he said.


Somini Sengupta reported from New Delhi, and Julfikar Ali Manik from Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Source: New York Times


The secular vote bloc

Naeem Mohaiemen

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Standing at many intersections. What were the arguments in favour of secularism? In the 1960s, a push-back against West Pakistani colonisation. In 1971, it was simply and joyfully, a decisive rejection of the Pakistan model. Later in the 1980s, it was also expanded to explain that religion was for private space, inner life, spiritual healing; but not for politics. Now in this decade, we also insistently emphasise that religion is to be respected (because secularism's critics falsely accuse it of being anti-religion), but it should not be involved in the running of the state.


A symbolic principle first settled in 1971, but under methodical attack by many quarters in the post-liberation decades. This December 29, it is time to decisively vote, again, to separate religion from politics.


I have to look at the calendar to remind myself. It's almost 2009. But in some political party rallies are still bashi slogans remniscent of a political past, not a present or future. When voters hear of “Islam in danger” or “Vote for us to save Islam” they should raise their eyebrows, express a skeptical gesture and turn their head.


Islam “in danger”? A religion in its fourteenth century, with 1.8 billion global followers (second highest after Christianity), a robust tradition and teachings (the only problem being occasional misinterpretation) in danger? And we need to vote for someone in Bangladesh to save it?


These are darkness politics we have faced down since the 1950s. The “mosjid e ulu dhoni,” the vote for us to “save religion,” the false blasphemy allegations, the attacks on Bangla culture as “Hinduani.” It won't work, not this time, not any more. Perhaps it never did.


But still broken tactics hammer on. In our education system we are in the grips of triple tracks: English medium, Bangla medium, and madrassa. The expectations and training created by each track, along with the intersections of class and locality, is different and sometimes clashing. Divide and rule. What are needed are education systems that can train people for the future. To work, earn and live.


Rumi Ahmed talks about the “Manna Factor,” to delineate a first-time voter group that is outside everybody's definition, constituency, or appropriation: “Nobody organised them, no chain email notified them, and no Facebook group was created to make the event successful.” Actually none of the political parties know how to reach out to this voter bloc. There is now some talk about job creation programs, global competitiveness and “digital” Bangladesh, which is a good, late start. Certainly talking about job creation is better than the politics of “religion in danger,” which has no impact on the daily practical life of the nation's gigantic unemployed youth bloc.


We need candidates who can get us jobs, safeguard our economic livelihood, build up the national economy. They need to explain how to do all that, and earn our vote. A columnist once talked about the shadows “behind the BMW shine.” While business and development has empowered a tiny elite, the vast majority are still shei timire. A particular political hysteria keeps yelling that the toiling masses should be voting to save religion. Actually, they should be voting for jobs, school, education, equality.


The five years that follow this election, people will watch, monitor and participate and see how the winning side makes economic lives better. In a way connected to practical issues, to economics, to income, to the world inside and outside these borders. In an age of brutal global competition, fluctuating open borders and rapidly evolving economic scenarios. A forceful return of the politics of bhat-kapra-makaan.


Naeem Mohaiemen has written about minorities for Ain O Salish Kendra.



All should accept people’s mandate, says Hasina

Staff Correspondent


The Awami League president, Sheikh Hasina, on Monday evening called upon all leaders and activists of the party to have patience and exercise restraints until total victory was achieved.

   ‘All leaders and activists should exercise restraints until total victory is achieved’, Hasina’s press secretary Abul Kalam Azad quoted her as saying.

   He said Hasina had asked the party activists not to bring out any processions anywhere until the polls results were officially announced.

   In the morning, Hasina said whatever the poll results may be, all political parties should accept the people’s mandate.

   She was talking with reporters at the City College polling centre after casting her vote with her sister Sheikh Rehana at about 8:25am.

   Hasina flashed V-sign after casting her vote and hoped that the Awami League-led alliance would win the people’s mandate to run the country for the next five years.

   ‘We want the elections to be held in a free and fair atmosphere so that the people get the result they expect and their democratic rights are returned’, she said adding that all should accept whatever the poll results might be.

   The AL chief expressed her satisfaction after casting her vote hoping that a people’s representative government would assume office through a fair election.

   Hasina referred to ‘attempts to buy votes’ by BNP-Jamaat candidates in many places. ‘If this happens how can I believe the elections will be free and fair’, she said and wanted to know what steps the caretaker government and the Election Commission were taking against such violation of the electoral rules.

   Responding to a query, she said her party did not want a repetition of the post-election violence of 2001. We do not want to see any further confrontation, conflicts or terrorism.

   ‘I wholeheartedly want restoration of a democratic government as every government, except my 1996-2001 government, were directed by the military – directly or indirectly’, Hasina said adding that only an elected government could fulfil the people’s expectations and ensure accountability and transparency of the government.

   The AL chief claimed that every regime, except her government, had created obstacles to transferring state power and as a result the nation had to wait for seven years to get an election.

   After casting her vote, Hasina visited several polling centres across the capital and exchanged views with her party candidates and supporters. The centres she visited included Bangladesh Leather & Technology College at Hazaribagh, Rayerbazar Gajamohan Tannery High School, RC Primary School at Mirpur, Pallabi MI Model High School, Mirpur Bangla School and College, Ashraf Ali High School at Mirpur, Uttara High School, Gudaraghat Badda High School, Viqarunnisa Noon School & College and Shyampur Primary School.

   Later, the AL chief visited Bangabandhu Memorial Museum.


Khaleda to accept results if elections fair, Expresses dissatisfaction over arrangement

Staff Correspondent


The BNP chairperson, Khaleda Zia, has said she will accept the result if the polling is held in a free, fair and unbiased manner as wanted by the people of the country.

   ‘We want to see an elected democratic government get established through free, fair and neutral polling,’ Khaleda said, expressing her confidence to win the national election.

   She made the statement after casting her vote at the Adamjee Cantonment College polling centre in the capital on Monday.

   ‘People have got the chance to elect their representatives through voting after two years of the schedule and they are casting votes in a festive mood. If the election is held in free, fair and neutral manner, the BNP-led four-party alliance will secure a massive victory,’ she told newsmen after casting her vote.

   Khaleda added that she had reports of disturbing the supporters of four-party alliance at some polling centres outside the capital, and undue arrest and harassment of the leaders and activists of BNP on false accusations, which was creating panic among the voters of the centres,’ she said while visiting the Motijheel Ideal School and College centre at around 2:30pm.

   ‘We want the polling is held in a free and fair manner and the party, which becomes winner, will form the government. We have no objection against it. But, what happens are not right at all,’ she said, citing the reports of disturbance at some centres in Bhola, Chandpur, and Chowddagram.

   Khaleda also raised concerns over casting of votes at slow rate due to mismanagement at the polling centres and asked the Election Commission to extend the voting time after 4.00pm.

   ‘I have visited a number of polling centres in the capital and saw a huge number of electorates were waiting outside the polling booths due to very slow casting of votes. I wanted to know the reason for slow voting, but none could answer properly,’ she said, adding that the arrangement for the women voters at some centres was not good and it was slowing the voters’ casting rate.

   ‘There are mismatches in the voters’ numbers too. How can I term the polling with such flaws as fair?’ Khaleda asked.

   When asked whether she terms the holding of polls in unfair manner, Khaleda said, ‘No, I am not saying it right now. But the enthusiasm, which I saw among the voters for casting votes, was falling due to mismanagement and shortage of booths at the polling centres.’

   After casting vote, Khaleda went to visit the BAF Shaheen College centre at Kurmitola and the RAJUK Uttara Model College centre. At Rajuk Collge centre, Khaleda expressed dissatisfaction over the arrangement of booths for the female voters on the third floor.

   She also visited the Kurmitola High School centre, Madhya Badda Jamiyatul Islam Miftahul Ulum madrassah centre, Rampura Ekramunnesa College centre, Kamlapur High School centre, Quamrunnesa Girls High School centre, RAK Chowdhury College centre, Lalbag Government Primary School centre, Azimpur Girls High School centre, Teachers’ Training College centre, and Central Public Library centre in the city. A huge number of voters greeted her at these centres while paying visit.


CEC hopes all parties will accept polls results

Staff Correspondent, New Age


The chief election commissioner, ATM Shamsul Huda, on Monday hoped that all parties would accept the polls results as voting was being held in a transparent way.

   ‘I do not see any problem. I hope that the final outcome of the ongoing voting process will be accepted by all,’ the CEC said while talking to a group of journalists during his flying visit.

   After casting his vote, Shamsul stopped at his Election Commission office briefly, and then went on to inspect different polling centres in the towns of Narayanganj and Munshiganj.

   Expressing his satisfaction over the polls environment, the CEC said, ‘No untoward incident has so far taken place in the country.’

   The CEC during his visits to different polling stations at about 2:00pm hoped for 70-75 percent turnout in the ninth parliamentary polls.

   ‘I am happy with the pace of vote casting and so far the polling across the country is peaceful. I can sense a festive mood in the voters crowding the polling centres and the tens of thousands of voters heading for home constituencies braving the cold,’ he said.