Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A New Dawn in Bangladesh

The people have spoken. As in the 2008 general elections in Malaysia, this time the people of Bangladesh will also look back on 2008 and possibly see this as a watershed in their political history. In a resounding endorsement of the Awami League, the Bangladeshi voters have given the former premier Sheikh Hasina and her allies a two-third majority. A clear and unequivocal mandate, if there ever was one.

The election of a new assembly also will put an end to a rather protracted political impasse in Bangladesh, which has seen a military-backed government for two years now. Whilst the outcome does put Bangladesh back on the path of having ‘a government of the people,’ it also spells a significant shift in the political landscape in the country. The obvious casualties of this shift include the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Jamaat-e-Islami. Indeed, many prominent figures of these two coalition partners lost their seats.

Particularly striking about this outcome is also the new image that the Awami League – and Sheikh Hasina – has been able to cultivate; one that apparently focused on a message that appealed to young voters in order to build a progressive Bangladesh. Many of the voters who happen to have for the very first time voted in an election, clearly rejected the politics of religion and extremism and opted for Sheikh Hasina’s platform for, among other things, building a more modern Bangladesh.

Perhaps this renewed commitment to listening to the will of the people will translate into some genuine economic renewal in Bangladesh – a country, as we all in Malaysia know too well, is teeming with a young population in much need of hope and economic opportunity. Perhaps this new dawn is a start – one that at least fosters hope. Only history will tell if this, perhaps not unlike the last Malaysian general election, turns out to be a major turning point in Bangladesh.

For now it sure seems to be a major change - somewhat reminiscent of another political tsunami.

G. Krishnan