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Joe Devine

Internal News - 15 January 2008

State of emergency in Bangladesh – where are we one year on?

Dr Joe Devine from the Department of Economics & International Development was this week interviewed by BBC Radio Scotland on the political situation of Bangladesh, one year after a state of emergency was declared and a caretaker government was put in place.

Speaking on Newsweek Scotland he said that it remains unclear what kind of democracy the nation is moving towards.

Since coming to power on 11 January 2007, the military-backed caretaker government has run Bangladesh under a state of emergency and repeatedly pledged to establish a credible democracy, free from corruption and political abuse.

In order to achieve this, it launched a huge and widely-publicised crackdown on corruption and so far has detained almost 200 politicians including former prime ministers Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia. It has also begun to prepare a fresh list of voters with photographic identity cards and introduced a number of other political reforms.

Dr Devine believes that while it is difficult to gauge the mood of the general public during a state of emergency, it seems that until recently the government’s crackdown on political bigwigs has received broad support and even raised people’s hopes for change.

Over the last few months however there has been a marked escalation of public frustration with the caretaker government. In particular, it has come under pressure for its poor handling of the economy.

“2008 will be an important year for Bangladesh but it is not clear how things will unravel,” said Dr Devine.

“The caretaker government has set out a roadmap and committed to holding elections before the end of the year.

“Meanwhile it has to deal with the everyday business of running the government and this is proving difficult.

“Political leaders are pushing for the ban on political activities to be lifted as soon as possible and it is possible that they might use the public’s anger at the recent poor performance of the caretaker government to try and force this agenda.

“Any resolution, however, will depend on the role of the military. Although officially ‘supporting’ the government, the military has played a very visible role over the last 12 months sometimes heading up the most important operations of the government.

“It is unlikely that the political situation will be resolved without the approval of the military and for many in Bangladesh this is a very real threat and a source of deep concern.

“Only last year the Army Chief stated that the country should not return to an ‘elective democracy’ and that it needed instead to create a ‘new kind of democracy’.

“As the world’s fifth largest democracy enters its second year under a state of emergency, it is unclear what kind of democracy it is moving towards.”

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