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Is a dictator rising in Bangladesh?

International | The prime minister and her party win suspicious landslide victory
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 1/08/19, 02:02 pm

An electoral process marred by violence, intimidation, and accusations of fraud has solidified one-party rule and added to fears of rising authoritarianism in Bangladesh.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her ruling coalition secured an unexpected landslide victory in the Dec. 30 general election. Hasina’s Awami League party secured 288 of the 300 contested parliamentary seats, leaving just seven for the Jatiya Oikko Front, the lead opposition alliance led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). In some constituencies, the leading coalition garnered 99 percent of the votes. The victory gives Hasina her third consecutive five-year term as leader.

The opposition rejected the vote, citing voter fraud and intimidation, and called for a revote. On Thursday, the seven elected opposition members boycotted Parliament’s swearing-in ceremony. The lawmakers have three months to take their oaths of office or lose their seats.

During the vote, violence broke out in 13 of 64 districts, and at least 17 people died. The reports of election mismanagement included some authorities turning away voters hours before polls closed. Other witnesses reported they found out their votes were already cast when they showed up to use the electronic voter system.

The nation’s Election Commission said the vote would stand but promised to investigate the allegations.

Hasina, 71, has ruled Bangladesh since 2009. In her victory speech, she vowed to work for the “welfare of the people.”

Her economic success appeals to voters: In the 2017-2018 fiscal year, Bangladesh saw 7.8 percent growth in its gross domestic productits highest ever. Hasina also maintained relations with India while accepting bulky investments from China.

Despite the progress, her government has increasingly repressed dissent. Authorities went after two journalists who reported on irregularities in the vote, accusing them of publishing false information. Ahead of the vote, about 7,000 anti-government activists were arrested, according to the opposition.

In February 2018, a Bangladeshi court sentenced BNP leader and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia to five years in prison over corruption charges—a move that sent the opposition into disarray ahead of the election. She received another seven-year sentence in October, and the Election Commission later disqualified her from running in the election.

Prosecutors accused Zia and five others, including her son, of embezzling $252,000 from funds meant for the Zia Orphanage Trust. Her latest sentence involved misappropriating an additional $375,000 funds for the separate Zia Charitable Trust. The opposition dismissed the ruling as a political stunt.

Kanchan Gupta, a political commentator with the India-based Observer Research Foundation, said the election’s outcome further wiped out any political accountability: “For all practical purposes, Bangladesh is now a single-party state with inconsequential parties keeping alive the country’s constitutional description as a multiparty democracy.”

Associated Press Associated Press Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (right) and Coptic Pope Tawadros II inaugurate the new cathedral east of Cairo on Sunday.

Egyptian efforts to protect Christians get mixed reaction

Ahead of the Egyptian Coptic Christians’ Christmas celebration on Monday, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced the formation of a committee to prevent and confront sectarian violence.

The committee chair and members were drawn from national security, counterterrorism, military, and general intelligence services, the Egypt Independent reported.

Watani, a Coptic news outlet in Egypt, called the committee’s formation welcome news and said Coptic Orthodox spokesman Father Boulos Halim considered it a step in the right direction. Coptic Catholic spokesman Father Hany Bakhoum urged the committee to end the violence, not merely confront it, and requested that the committee add church representatives.

Advocacy groups in the United States were more skeptical.

“Coptic Solidarity welcomes any move by the government to make a substantive change, but based on the actions of the al-Sisi administration, it doesn’t look very hopeful,” said Lindsay Griffin, Coptic Solidarity’s development and advocacy director. The group said that the recent opening of a large Coptic cathedral and the creation of the committee were “part of a well-orchestrated public relations campaign to gain support for the al-Sisi government and to divert attention from the fact that the overall human rights/religious freedom situation in Egypt is worse now than even under [former President Hosni] Mubarak.” —Julia A. Seymour

Associated Press/Photo by Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press Associated Press/Photo by Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press Meng Wanzhou (right) at a parole office in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Dec. 12

China detains 13 Canadians in ongoing spat

China has detained 13 Canadian citizens since the December arrest of Chinese tech executive Meng Wanzhou, the Canadian government said in a statement last week. China has released at least eight of the detainees.

The diplomatic rift began Dec. 1, when Canadian authorities detained Meng, an executive at Huawei, at an airport in Vancouver at the request of the United States after she arrived on a flight from Hong Kong. The United States said Huawei, the largest global supplier of network gear used by phone and internet companies, used a shell company in Hong Kong to sell equipment to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. It also accused Meng of misleading banks about the dealings. She remains in Vancouver after a Canadian court released her on a $7.4 million bail while she fights extradition to the United States.

China confirmed it arrested two Canadian citizens on suspicion of endangering “the national security of China.” A statement Thursday said Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor remain under arrest. Authorities released a third detainee, Sarah McIver, who is back in Canada.

On Thursday, the U.S. State Department increased the severity of its travel advisory for China and asked Americans to exercise increased caution. The advisory warned of “arbitrary enforcement of local laws.” —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Jossy Ola Associated Press/Photo by Jossy Ola The site of an attack in Maiduguri, Nigeria, on Nov. 1

Terror attacks persist in Nigeria’s northeast

Militants from an Islamic State–linked group in northeastern Nigeria staged multiple attacks on bases and villages in the region in recent weeks, according to residents and officials last week.

On the night of Dec. 26, militants from the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP), a faction of Boko Haram, attacked the town of Baga in Borno state. The group overran the headquarters of the multinational Joint Task Force, as well as a naval base and a marine police base. ISWAP claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it caused “dozens of casualties,” and released photos of the destruction, according to the SITE Intelligence monitoring group.

Many residents fled the town for the capital, Maiduguri. Nigerian army spokesman Col. Onyeka Nwachukwu said the state government was relocating the town’s residents as military operations continued in the area.

ISWAP also claimed responsibility for the deaths of two Nigerian soldiers in the town of Gamboru and for three attacks in northeast Yobe state that killed 14 Nigerian soldiers. Nigeria is preparing for its presidential election in February, and President Muhammad Buhari, who vowed to defeat insurgency, is running for another term. —O.O.

Russia resettles ISIS children

Russia last week repatriated 30 children of Islamic State (ISIS) members who were either jailed or killed while fighting in Iraq.

Officials flew in the children from Baghdad’s international airport to Moscow. The group includes 16 girls and 14 boys between the ages of 3 and 15. It remains unclear how or where the children will be resettled.

Many foreign governments remain hesitant to resettle the families of ISIS fighters over concerns they could also be terrorists.

The office of Anna Kuznetsova, the Russian ombudsman for children’s rights, said it has identified 123 Russian children in Iraq in need of resettlement and 699 others across the region who were “brought to the Middle East by their parents.” The office said the mothers of the resettled children remain incarcerated at a prison in Baghdad. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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