Parties rivalry may harm Bangladesh polls

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Dhaka, Nov 7: Mounting rivalry within one of Bangladesh's two main political parties could ruin the hopes of its army-backed interim government for a smooth run-up to polls expected next year, officials and analysts said.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of detained former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia has been torn by a face-off between her loyalists and opponents who see themselves as reformers trying to change a party centred around her.

Their confrontation was fuelled further on Monday by an invitation from the Election Commission to Khaleda's opponents in the BNP to discuss preparations for the vote and related electoral reforms.

Chief Election Commissioner A T M Shamsul Huda said that the panel had chosen the right group to talk to on Nov 22 under provisions of the BNP constitution.

But angry supporters of Khaleda have threatened to challenge the move in court and ''teach a tough lesson'' to the rebels.

''The country is now at a new cross-road over the latest BNP feud in which one of its factions has accused the EC of being unfairly lenient to the other,'' said Abul Momen yesterday, a political analyst and columnist.

If the confrontation spilled over into the streets with violent protests and clashes, the road to the polls could become slippery, analysts said.

Khaleda's opponents are led by acting BNP chairman Saifur Rahman and secretary-general Hafizuddin Ahmed, the former finance and commerce ministers, respectively, in the previous government.

They are leading a campaign to curb what they say is Khaleda's absolute control over the party and her dictatorial tendencies.

Divisive politics: Last week, they took control of the party by ousting Khaleda loyalist Khandaker Delwar Hossain from the post of secretary-general.

Their battle has since become murky with Delwar's deputy, Hannan Shah, a retired army brigadier-general, accusing Hafizuddin of trying to arrest President Ziaur Rahman, Khaleda's husband and BNP founder, when Hafizuddin was an army major in 1975.

Hafizuddin has rejected the accusation as a conspiracy by Khaleda's loyalists to ''create confusion and spread controversy ahead of elections,'' which the interim government has vowed to hold around the end of next year.

Hannan, another fierce Khaleda loyalist, said his group would legally challenge the Election Commission decision to invite those ''who had not only opposed Khaleda, the party chairperson, but also tried to destroy the BNP at the directives of invisible power mongers.'' Khaleda, and her rival Sheikh Hasina, another former prime minister and head of the Awami League party, detained since September and July respectively, are awaiting possible trial for corruption and abuse of power.

Their parties ruled the impoverished country for 15 years to October 2006, when Khaleda ended her second five-year spell in power.

Some analysts said the BNP infighting was only an extension of Bangladesh's bitterly divisive politics.

''The division in the BNP is the reality of our (confrontational) politics,'' said Ataur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Political Science Association. ''We will have to live with this, and wait for healthy politics.


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