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Thursday, 4 October, 2001, 00:38 GMT 01:38 UK
Analysis: Challenges ahead for Bangladesh
Crowd control at a voting station in Dhaka
Bangladesh's new government faces many demands
By Alastair Lawson in Dhaka

Khaleda Zia will soon be sworn in as Bangladesh's new prime minister after an overwhelming election victory.

Her position is no doubt enhanced by the strength of her triumph.

Soldier guards voters at polling booth
Mrs Zia must deal with crime, corruption, poverty and a determined opposition
She has a convincing majority in parliament and may not need to rely heavily on her alliance partners.

But the veteran politician and her Bangladesh Nationalist Party will still need parliamentary muscle to face numerous challenges over the next few months.

Prominent among these is the stability of the country itself.

Hostile rhetoric

"Democracy is yet to be institutionalised in Bangladesh, which throughout the sixties and seventies veered from military dictatorship to democracy," said the European Union ambassador Antonio de Souza Menezes.

"While this election marks the longest period of uninterrupted democracy in the country's history, the violence of the campaign shows that future political stability cannot be guaranteed."

The first task facing Mrs Zia after she is sworn later this month will be to establish some degree of reconciliation.

The election campaign was bitterly fought and violent, leaving more than 140 people dead.

The hostile rhetoric between her and Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina dominated much of the campaign.

Hardliners

She will also be eager to allay US concerns over the presence of two hardline Muslim parties within her four-party alliance that now has a majority in parliament.

"Washington will be particularly eager to ensure that the recent decision by Dhaka to allow the Americans use of their airspace as part of their build-up against Afghanistan is not in any way jeopardised," said a western diplomat.

Bangladesh Nationalist Party Chairperson Khaleda Zia, left, with her granddaughter in Dhaka
BNP leader Khaleda Zia was last in power in 1996

So far there is little evidence that either of these two parties - the Jammat-e-Islami and Islami Oika Jote - will force overwhelmingly Muslim Bangladesh to abandon its secular Bengali identity.

"The defeated Awami League Party tried to make their presence in the coalition an election issue by suggesting that they sang from the same hymn sheet as the Taleban," says political analyst Nazim Kamram Choudhury,

"But both parties have always stayed within the country's democratic framework and neither will rock the boat in terms of the new prime minister's relations with America."

Law, order and corruption

Perhaps the key factor behind Mrs Zia's victory was her ability to exploit resentment throughout the country over the breakdown of law and order.

"Bangladesh has become a haven for terrorists carrying out politically motivated attacks," she complained during the campaign.

It has also become a country where violent crime, especially in towns and cities, has escalated as poorly trained police struggle to cope.

The country is also plagued by corruption.

In a recent survey, the campaigning group Transparency International rated Bangladesh the most corrupt nation in the world.

Poverty

Around half the population of her country - the eighth most populous in the world - lives below the United Nations poverty line.

Its rates of malnutrition and per capita income are among the worst in Asia.

President of the Awami League Party Sheikh Hasina
Sheikh Hasina says a BNP government will ensure an era of darkness

Sanitary levels in many areas are insufficient, with fresh water and electricity in short supply.

It is estimated that about a third of the workforce of 70 million is unemployed, even though the economy grew by 5% a year during Sheikh Hasina's five year period in power.

Bangladesh has enormous oil and gas resources, but Sheikh Hasina has repeatedly said she will not sell to India until the demand in her own country has been met.

If Mrs Zia persists with this stance in government, she will be depriving her country of billions of dollars in foreign exchange.

Stiff opposition

The prime minister designate knows the last of her problems only too well.

While Sheikh Hasina may have been humiliated in the poll, she is not going to go away.

Like Mrs Zia, she exercises a vice-like hold over her party.

She has already complained the election was rigged and the likelihood is that she will launch a series of one day strikes - or hartals - to hamper the progress of the new government.

When Khaleda Zia was in power it was a tactic she employed with deadly effect, frequently bringing the entire country to a standstill.

In that respect Bangladesh can expect more of the same.

See also:

02 Oct 01 | South Asia
Opposition sweeps Bangladesh polls
28 Sep 01 | South Asia
Campaigning ends in Bangladesh
23 Sep 01 | South Asia
Bangladesh rally bombed
07 Sep 01 | South Asia
Bangladesh poll line-up complete
17 Jun 01 | South Asia
Bangladesh hunts party office bombers
06 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Bangladesh
02 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: A tale of two women
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