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Friday, 11 October, 2002, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
Bangladesh Government : One year on
Demonstrators hurling fire bombs
The government has failed to reverse lawlessness


Senior ministers of the four - party coalition of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia in Bangladesh are celebrating the first anniversary of their election victory.

The government has had a mixed twelve months.


Until this nexus between crime and politics is broken, Bangladesh is going to make in-roads in the battle against crime

Debapriya Bhattacharya, Political commentator
It has failed to deliver on one of its key election pledges - to improve law and order - but has made progress in cleaning up the environment and strengthening the economy.

Nevertheless, it is the failure to reverse growing lawlessness in Bangladesh that is causing the most concern.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Mrs Zia realised the importance of this issue before and during the election.

Violent crimes

The cornerstones of its campaign were promises to reduce the number of murders, rapes, muggings, abductions and robberies.

One year later, police statistics reveal an upward trend in violent crime.

On average 325 people are murdered in the country every month, a further 300 are raped and there are around 18 acid attacks.

President of Awami League Party Sheikh Hasina
Monthly crime figures higher than when Awami League in power

The figures in all three categories are higher than the monthly average of the main opposition Awami League's five years in government.

Especially embarrassing for the government is the pledge made soon after its election last October to catch twenty-three people it named as "the most wanted terrorists" in the country.

All are accused of carrying out especially violent crimes.

So far only four have been caught, and there are allegations in the media that some of the others remain free because of their close connections with members of the governing coalition.


The government has miserably failed to fulfil its main manifesto commitment

Saber Chowdhury, Opposition spokesman
Ministers have meanwhile strongly disputed opposition allegations that the presence of two hard-line Islamic parties within the coalition means that Bangladesh is abandoning some of its traditional secular identity.

'Demoralised police'

But this issue, like everything else in Bangladesh, is lower down the list of political priorities than the fight against crime.

"The government has miserably failed to fulfil its main manifesto commitment and every day reports of violent crime become more numerous", says opposition spokesman Saber Hossain Chowdhury,.

"The really disturbing aspect of all this for the government is that many crimes are carried out by individuals known to have close connections with the ruling party."

But the Bangladeshi Home Minister, Altaf Hossain Chowdhury, argues that the reason why it has taken so long to improve law and order is simple.

The government inherited a demoralised and understaffed police force from the Awami League.

Crime and politics

Mr Chowdhury said steps are now underway to recruit 5,000 more officers in Dhaka, which currently has one of the lowest ratios of police to members of the public in the world.

Independent commentators such as Debapriya Bhattacharya of the Dhaka based Centre for Policy Dialogue argues that to some extent both the BNP and the Awami League must take responsibility for rising lawlessness.

In recent council elections in Dhaka, both parties fielded candidates who had criminal records.

"Until this nexus between crime and politics is broken," he says, "no administration in Bangladesh is going to make in-roads in the battle against crime."

In other areas of governance, the four party coalition had made significant progress.

That is especially the case in relation to protecting the environment.

It has successfully banned the use of polythene bags, and has removed thousands of pollution emitting auto rickshaws - three-wheelers with two-stroke engines - from the streets of Dhaka.

On the economy the government also says that it deserves plaudits. Ministers say it has boosted foreign exchange reserves, increased output and lowered inflation.

The opposition remain unconvinced, arguing that today there are more people than ever who are out of work.

See also:

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