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Wednesday, 26 September, 2001, 15:21 GMT 16:21 UK
Analysis: Bangladesh's feuding politicians
Protest supporting Osama Bin Laden
Anti-US feeling may help the BNP's Islamist allies
By Alastair Lawson in Dhaka

Comments made by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader Khaleda Zia within hours of a bomb blast that killed at least eight members of the Awami League at the weekend typify the hostile and personalised rhetoric that has been part and parcel of this campaign.


One thing you can be sure of is that the loser will not concede gracefully

Foreign diplomat
Mrs Zia accused her rival of harbouring terrorists within her party.

She said that Sheikh Hasina had allowed lawlessness and terrorism to flourish during her five years in power.

The outburst was the latest in an increasingly vitriolic war of words between the two leaders who have made no secret of their mutual animosity.

The antipathy between the two seems to have filtered down to their supporters, enhancing the possibility of violent confrontation - especially when all the major parties are likely to hold last-minute rallies before the vote.

The caretaker government responsible for overseeing the elections is so worried about the deteriorating law and order situation that it has deployed more than 50,000 troops to quell the violence.

Fears of violence

But diplomats fear that the possibility of further conflict between the two sides is greater after the vote than before, because neither the Awami League nor the Bangladesh Nationalist Party will be prepared to accept defeat.

Woman mourning
Many have died in political violence
"Neither leader even entertains the idea they might lose," an official said, "and both have shown no scruples about using some pretty dirty tactics to undermine their opponents."

"It's an election in which there is absolutely no moral high ground."

Well-known families

Both Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia come from well-known political families.

Sheikh Hasina's father, Mujibur, was the country's first president.

Bangladeshi PM
Sheikh Hasina: Defending her record
He was killed by army officers who she says had links with Khaleda Zia's husband, Ziaur Rahman, who ruled Bangladesh as a military dictator in the 1970s.

The hatred stemming from Bangladesh's past is reflected today.

The issues in this election have largely been neglected amid the trading of insults between the two leaders.

Khaleda Zia has focused on what she says is Sheikh Hasina's failure to enforce law and order.

There is a consensus across the political spectrum that violent crime has increased in recent years.

Criticisms

She has also criticised the outgoing prime minister for not standing up to India.

Bangladesh troops
There were clashes with India earlier this year
There were a series of border skirmishes between the two countries earlier this year in which troops and civilians from both countries were killed.

Defending her record, Sheikh Hasina says that the Bangladeshi economy has grown by roughly 5% a year since she assumed power.

She says that she has ended a bloody insurgency by predominantly Buddhist tribal rebels in the south-western Chittagong Hill Tracts, and has resolved a long-running dispute with India over the sharing of water from the River Ganges.

Sheikh Hasina - who handed over power to the caretaker government in July after five years in power - also says that Bangladesh will lose its secular identity if the BNP wins, because it is allied with two hardline Muslim parties.

Islamic trends

Evidence of the spread of militant Islam is easily seen.

In Dhaka, posters containing quotations from Osama Bin Laden compete for wall space alongside mug shots of candidates standing to join the country's 300-member parliament.

The American military build-up against Afghanistan has dominated newspaper front pages, in many cases winning more column inches than the election campaign.

Some commentators point out that if the US attacks before the vote, the BNP and its allies could benefit because many people will vote for a more overtly Islamic alliance as a gesture of protest.

Diplomats say the result of the election will be close and the winner difficult to predict because Bangladesh is polarised between the two parties and reliable opinion polls for the electorate of over 70 million do not exist.

"But one thing you can be sure of," said one diplomat, "the loser will not concede defeat gracefully."

See also:

23 Sep 01 | South Asia
Bangladesh rally bombed
19 Aug 01 | South Asia
Bangladesh poll in October
07 Sep 01 | South Asia
Bangladesh poll line-up complete
19 Jun 01 | South Asia
US condemns Bangladesh violence
17 Jun 01 | South Asia
Bangladesh hunts party office bombers
01 Apr 01 | South Asia
Violence hits Bangladesh
06 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Bangladesh
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