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Bangladeshi Democracy Hangs in the Balance

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The upcoming Bangladeshi general election, scheduled for January 7, hangs heavy with uncertainty. Accusations of political manipulation and state-sanctioned violence have clouded this crucial step in the country’s political journey. The beleaguered opposition, echoing the sentiment, “Democracy is dead,” expresses deep concerns about the outcome being skewed in favour of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Their demand for the resignation of the current administration and the establishment of an interim government gains increasing urgency.

A wave of turmoil engulfs the streets as millions of citizens express their growing desperation. Yet, no signs of political compromise emerge. Heartbreaking visuals and firsthand accounts paint a disturbing picture, implicating both sides: police forces repeatedly assault unarmed civilians, while charged mobs retaliate by beating police officers, setting hospitals ablaze, and attacking government installations.
Meanwhile, the detention of political rivals and civil society activists intensifies. Over 400 have been imprisoned since last month. A more worrying development arises from the higher judiciary, which upholds a ban on the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami party. The implications of this heavy-handed approach, veiled in a pretence of democracy, form the core of the opposition’s election manifesto.

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Despite a determined, well-oiled machinery attempting to conceal the harsh realities, members of the international community have stepped forward, voicing concerns about the deteriorating democratic system. The political arena has been tainted by a range of governance models, where one-party rule and its associated oligarchic influence overshadow any financial gains. Considering that the last truly free and fair election occurred in 2008 (the 2014 and 2018 general polls were marred by rigging controversies), it would have been more prudent for Ms. Hasina and the governing Bangladesh Awami League to step aside and appoint a neutral administration. A functioning democracy, which could foster greater accountability and transparency, might offer a much-needed dose of rational optimism to a nation brimming with young, hopeful citizens.

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