Analysts predict immediate majority for none

December 29, 2008

Reuters, Dhaka
Some analysts predict neither Mahajote chief Sheikh Hasina nor her rival ex-PM Begum Khaleda Zia will have an immediate majority.
Jockeying to win needed parliamentary support could add to fears of post-election violence and delays in a new government tackling such challenges as fighting poverty and reducing endemic corruption in the South Asian nation of more than 140 million. In the immediate term, however, security forces are concentrating on preventing violence at the polls after a brick-throwing attack on a motorcade and clashes injuring nearly 200 marred final campaigning on Saturday.
“We have further tightened security ahead of the election,” a police officer in one area hit by fighting said on Sunday.
Across the country, army troops were patrolling streets and police dispersing to polling points.
The military-backed government-which took power in January 2007 amidst political violence and canceled an election due that month-has deployed about 50,000 army troops and thousands of other security personnel.
“Small incidents are quite likely ahead of an election but these will not leave any impact on the voting tomorrow,” said Hasan Mahmud Khandoker, chief of the security forces’ elite Rapid Action Battalion. Aside from violence, Bangladesh elections have often seen widespread cheating and fraud, but for Monday, election rolls have been cleaned up, picture IDs provided, and some 200,000 local and 2,000 foreign monitors assigned to check procedures.
Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah, chairman of the National Election Observation Council, said: “It has been quiet so far today, and the conditions appear to be good for monitoring.
“We now hope that election day itself will pass off peacefully and that voters will turn out in large numbers,” said Cassam Uteem, head of the Commonwealth Observer Group.
“Once the result is known, it is vital that both the victor and the loser-whoever they may be-work together in the interest of the country,” he told Reuters on Sunday.
In final broadcast speeches on Saturday, Hasina and Khaleda, nicknamed the “battling Begums,” both suggested it was time to end confrontational politics in which losers refuse to accept results and strikes and violent street protests are common.
But in mass rallies earlier in the day they repeated charges against one another of corruption, vote-rigging and incompetence, heated rhetoric that has analysts worried about post-election violence from the losing side.
Hasina’s alliance includes the Jatiya Party of former military ruler Lieutenant-General Hossain Mohammad Ershad. The grouping joined with Khaleda and her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has backing from the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami.
Hasina and Khaleda alternated in power for 15 years through 2006. Despite their rivalry, analysts say policy differences are relatively small and what is critical for attracting needed-investment and aid is stability and peace.
Local media and analysts generally give Hasina a plus in the voting, but predicting a precise outcome is difficult.
Professor Sirajul Islam Chowdhury of Dhaka University said he would not rule out the possibility of a hung parliament, adding “support of independent legislators may be crucial for either woman if the election is close.”
Economists and foreign aid donors to Bangladesh hope that once settled in, the new government will tackle endemic corruption distorting the business playing field, and seek to boost growth in the country, some 45 percent of whose people live in poverty.


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