MonitorsPublished on Nov 26, 2010
The people of Bangladesh are slowly becoming sceptical that they might soon be trapped into an era of unending street protests and violent political clashes. The root to this fear has been the long absence of the Opposition from Parliament and its efforts to settle political issues on the streets.
Is politics of hartal returning to Bangladesh?
< class="heading1">Analysis

The people of Bangladesh are slowly becoming sceptical that they might soon be trapped into an era of unending street protests and violent political clashes. The root to this fear has been the long absence of the Opposition from Parliament and its efforts to settle political issues on the streets. The anxiety became more prevalent after the Opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), decided to bring down the Awami League Government of Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina. To take this forward, the BNP has announced an elaborate, country-wide programme of protest.

Bangladesh is known for its confrontational nature of politics. Street protests or hartals (as commonly referred to) have been its key phenomenon. The country witnessed a series of violent street protests during the period of BNP-Jamaat coalition Government (2001-06). This in turn crippled the normal life of people and resulted in a reign of chaos and anarchy. The caretaker Government responsible for conducting the election of January 22, 2007 had to resign as the law and order situation deteriorated due to these violent hartals that created political uncertainty.

There has hardly been any major incidence of street protest ever since the Awami League returned to power in December 2008. Absence of street violence does not mean that the political parties have matured and discarded the confrontational nature of politics. Conversely, there have been incidents involving party cadres, especially among the student wings of the two major parties. Unable to contain the incidents of violence in the educational institutions, the top leadership of Awami League has distanced itself from such acts.

However, the BNP has alleged that the Government was harassing its workers and leaders by bringing false charges of corruption against them. The Opposition further argues that the main intention for the Government in launching prosecution for 'War Crimes of 1971' was to harass them, mainly Jamaat-e-Islami, since it supported the BNP and had shared power in 2001-06.

Despite growing resentment against the Government, the BNP was constrained earlier by the humiliating defeat in the parliamentary election of 2008, in turn, a measure of the party's unpopularity even two years after it had handed over power to an interim set-up. Looking at popular public perception, any attempt to launch a movement would have had boomeranged on the party. Again some reports suggested that BNP leader, Begum Khaleda Zia, had lost control over a significant section of the party after internal divisions during the period of military caretaker Government. She is still struggling to gain it back. In view of these difficulties, BNP leaders were unsure about public response for any anti-Government protest on earlier occasions.

The recent motivation for launching the protest movement flows from the eviction of Khaleda Zia from her Cantonment house. The BNP perceives the eviction as an existential issue, as minus a strong protest, it could be seen as the party's weakness to resist the 'repressive action' of the Awami League rulers. The Cantonment house, identified with major decisions in the country during the BNP-Jammat coalition Government, was allotted to Khaleda Zia by the Government as far back as 1981. But the Dhaka High Court, in a recent verdict, declared this as illegal and ordered Khaleda Zia to vacate the house. The BNP has accused the Government of using the judiciary to settle political scores and crush the party.

Again, with the rising prices of essential commodities, crippling power situation with no improvement in sight and alleged high-handedness of the youth wing of the Awami League in all spheres, from Government tenders to college admissions, there has been a significant drop in the popularity of the Government. The BNP, in its efforts to win back its lost constituency, is trying to bank on anti-incumbency. But to regain its popular support, the Awami League has to first put its house in order.

JoyeetaBhattacharjeeis Associate Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation

< class="heading1">Country Reports

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Sheikh Hasina in Russia

The Russia-Bangladesh relations got a major boost following Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to Moscow recently. During her visit, Hasina met many high level leaders of Russia, including her counterpart Vladimir Putin.

The two leaders discussed bilateral cooperation in the field of energy. Bangladesh sought Russian help in setting up a nuclear power plant. It sought Russian cooperation in agriculture and defence also, particularly in the field of training. Putin said that the issues of nuclear power plant and long- term agreements on food grains and fertilizers will be discussed at the earliest.
Source: The Daily Star, November 24, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">1,000 MW electricity from Nepal

Bangladesh has expressed its desire to import 1,000 MW of hydropower from Nepal. The proposal was placed before the Nepalese Government this week by a seven-member Bangladeshi delegation led by the Prime Minister's Finance Adviser, Dr.Mosihiur Rahman. The delegation was in Nepal to discuss host of issues, including transit and import of electricity.

Although Nepal is rich in water resources, still, the country is not in position to export energy. In fact, the country itself is suffering from severe power shortage. However, Nepal has taken a grand initiative to generate 83,000 MW hydropower from the Saptakoshi project. It is likely to take around 20 years to complete the project.
Source: News Today, November 24, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt to counter Islamabad's move

Bangladesh has launched a move to counter an initiative of Pakistan to get certain benefits in addition to the existing ones enjoyed under the Generalised System of Preference (GSP) on several items exported to the European Union (EU) and US markets. The country fears that its trade will face a major challenge if this special privilege is given to Pakistan. Bangladesh is discussing the issue with EU so that its interest is protected.

Like other developing countries, Bangladesh and Pakistan are allowed zero-tariff access to EU markets under the GSP facility. Pakistan is lobbying hard to get additional benefits like increased quota of 46 items exported to the EU and US markets to stabilise its flood-hit economy. Bangladesh has since expressed reservations against allowing Pakistan such additional benefits on eight of the items ? readymade garments, leather and leather goods, shrimp, jute and jute goods, and tea.

Pakistani Commerce Minister MakhdoomAmeenFaheem was expected to visit Dhaka to procure the support of Bangladesh to push his country's case. But the trip was cancelled since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was out of the country.
Source: New Age, November 26, 2010


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Opposition moves SC over rejected ministers

The Opposition on Wednesday filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court in a bid to prevent seven Cabinet ministers, who were rejected by Parliament on Monday, from remaining in their posts.

Former Attorney General (AG) AishathAzimaShukoor, representing the Oppositon Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party, had this to say of the court petition: "We should think a bit more about the Civil Court's decision to reject State-related cases as they are from a rejected Attorney-General (AG), Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad. These issues will have implications on the economy," she said.

The Government, however, said the Cabinet ministers would remain, as Parliament rejecting a minister would not amount to the minister's dismissal from office.
Source: Haveeru Online, November 24,m 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt 'withdraws' budget

The Parliament has not received the 2011 budget, Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim said on Wednesday, denying a statement from the President's Office that it was sent on Sunday. "I have even checked a while ago. I am sure Parliament has not received the budget. But I do see media reports which said that the budget has been sent to the Parliament," he said.

The Government expected the proposed budget to be endorsed by December 29 after the committee's deliberations and amendments, President's Press Secretary Mohammed Zuhair said on Sunday. However, by Wednesday, he was saying that an 'urgent matter' had delayed the budget. "We had to add some parts to the budget," he said further, adding that it would now be submitted by December 6-8, against a constitutionally-mandated deadline of December 1. Parliament is required to start budget-related work after seven days of its submission, but the Opposition insists on not allowing Finance Minister Ali Hashim to enter Parliament, as he is one of the seven Cabinet members rejected by the House.
Source: Haveeru Online, November 24, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Budget through Ordinance

After much political drama and indefinite delays which brought the country to an economic halt, Finance Minister Surendra Pandey presented a Rs. 337.9-billion budget for the current fiscal year through the ordinance route since his earlier attempts to present a budget was foiled by the UCPN-M activists in Parliament. The feel-good budget that focused on education, health and social service apart from export promotion, infrastructure, and agriculture has targeted a growth of 4.5 per cent and puts inflation at seven per cent.

Experts doubt the caretaker Government's ability to contain inflation and achieve the targeted growth rate. However, incentivising exports and investment on infrastructure, especially road and power, has been acknowledged as positive. Learning a lesson from last fiscal year's huge balance of payment (BoP) deficit, the budget has tried to boost private sector confidence and has aimed at substituting imports through concessional loans to livestock farmers and cash crops like cardamom, ginger, tea, coffee and honey.

Industrialists also find the tax rebate on export encouraging as that could boost domestic industry. There is, however, scepticism as far as implementation of budget is concerned.
Source: Himalayan Times, November 21, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">UCPN-M plenum begins

The sixth plenum of UCPN-M, the largest party in the Constituent Assembly, started in Palungtar, Gurkha district of Nepal. The proceedings showed that three different factions were emerging within the party ranks. Three documents were presented during the plenum by Chairman Prachanda and the party's two Vice-Chairmen, Baburam Bhattarai and Mohan Baidya 'Kiran'.

The first faction is of the chairman 'Prachanda' whose document emphasised on the bolstering of intra-party unity, transformation and the need for waging a revolt for national independence, peace and Constitution. He has proposed to transform the party, acknowledging past drawbacks and divide the responsibility as per the hierarchical setup in the party. The Maoist chairman has also laid stress on involving youths in all programmes of the party, saying that would resolve the party's internal contradictions.

Vice-Chairman Baburam Bhattarai has, however, adopted a moderate approach. Significant differences were visible between him and Prachanda over identifying the 'enemy' and the modalities to reach towards the goal of the People's Republic. Mohan Baidya 'Kiran' presented a radical document, emphasising the need to revolt against 'reactionary forces' and the 'common foreign enemy'. He also threatened a revolt against the party if it chose to follow the moderate line of 'rightist revisionism'.

Both the Vice-Chairmen accused Prachanda of adopting fraudulent and corrupt practices even though the latter appeared to be confident while giving media interviews about his unchallenged leadership of the party for the last 22 years.
Source: ekantipur, November 26, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Fighter planes from US, missile and flight systems from China

The Pakistan Air Force has received six F-16 multi-role fighter aircraft from the US and six more will be delivered next month. They form part of an acquisition arrangement with the US under the deal ironically titled 'Peace Drive-I' signed in 2005-06, in which Pakistan was to receive 18 F-16 fighters. The entire acquisition process will be completed by 2012.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has also purchased missile flight systems from China to equip 250 JF-17 thunder jet fighters manufactured jointly with China. The deal includes a Chinese radar system and SD-10 mid-range homing missiles. There are no plans to install western devices and weapons. Initial plans to collaborate with a French firm, Thales S.A in a deal worth $ 1.6 billion, were cancelled by the French, apparently to avoid deterioration in the relationship with India.

Though the JF-17 jets have been employed in anti-terrorist operations in South Waziristan, the F-16 jets are combat aircraft. "We will use them against any threat to our security," said the Pakistan Air Chief, reacted to the US condition of not using the aircraft on its eastern front (against India).
Source: Dawn, November 20, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Agosta submarine deal resurfaces

In a development that could worsen the situation for President Asif Ali Zardari, who is already facing considerable pressure from the National Accountability Bureau (ACB) on the reopening of the Swiss corruption case, it has been hinted by former French President Jacques Chirac that the former's role in the Agosta submarine sale to Islamabad would have to be investigated. President Zardari is alleged to have received kickbacks in the deal, which progressed during the prime ministerial tenure of his slain wife, Benazir Bhutto.

Jacques Chirac could face manslaughter charges for the 2002 Karachi bombing, which killed 11 French engineers and at least three Pakistanis. It is suspected that the bombing was aimed at avenging Chirac cancelling commission payments, when he was the President, to Pakistani officials in the Agosta submarine sale to Pakistan signed in the mid-90's.

Incumbent French President Nicholas Sarkozy could also be called in for questioning as he was the Budget Minister who is alleged to have approved the commissions. Charges of diversion of these commissions for political activity in France have also been levelled against Sarkozy.
Source: Dawn, November 21, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Development spending cut down to meet IMF targets

In response to the devastating structural damages caused by the summer floods and the growing fiscal deficit, the IMF has demanded that Pakistan cut its Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) budget by 46 per cent for the fiscal year 2010-2011.

Failure to raise revenue for development and reconstruction has forced the government to cut down the expenditure pool by nearly half, in order to comply with the IMF and Pakistani Government's fiscal deficit target of 4.7 per cent of the GDP in 2010-2011. It is estimated that the floods have caused $9.7 billion in damages, including essential infrastructure.

Cutting down on public investment such as infrastructure, or even education and health services, could prove to be a major deterrent to growth and long-term development in a country which is already witnessing a drastic decline in its GDP growth.
Source: Daily Times, November 25, 2010

Sri Lanka
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">One-fourth of budget allocation for North, East

Leader of the House and Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva told the Parliament that one-fourth of the total capital expenditure in Budget-2011 has been allocated for the benefit of the people in the North and the East. Participating in the Budget debate, the Minister said that many quarters of the Opposition were shedding crocodile tears for the Tamils in the North East, but they have forgotten that the Government has done a tremendous job in rehabilitating and reconstructing those two Provinces after the conclusion of the ethnic war in May 2009.

"The total population of this country is 20.4 million. If we take the population in the North as a percentage, it's only 5.8 and in the East 7.52. When taken together, the North and East account for only 13.32 percent of the entire population of Sri Lanka. We have allocated SL Rs. 50.9 billion for the North and Rs. 26.6 billion for the East. Now the Opposition can say we have discriminated against the (Sinhala) people of the South", the Minister added.
Source: The Island, Colombo, November 24, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Lanka caught up in Indo-China tussle: UNP

The Opposition UNP has alleged that due to short-sighted foreign policy of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's Government, Sri Lanka was getting caught up in the geo-political conflict between Asian giants, China and India. UNP Kurunegala District MP Gamini Jayawickrama Perera told the Parliament that mismanagement of international affairs would cause serious problems. The country would have to pay a heavy price for the incompetence of the Government, he said. India was highly worried about increased Chinese presence here in the guise of backing Sri Lanka's post-war development drive. "We are facing an uncertain future. We'll soon end up like Sudan or Afghanistan, if China and India lock horns here."

Dismissing the government claims of a boom in the tourism industry, the MP alleged that the Government had managed to attract sex workers from various parts of the world.
Source: The Island, Colombo, November 25, 2010

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