The 12th Bangladeshi general election was held recently. The ruling Awami League party achieved an overwhelming victory, securing 223 of 300 directly elected parliamentary seats. This enables them to form a government for the fourth consecutive term. However, the notable success of independent candidates, who collectively won 61 seats, may signify evolving voter preferences with implications for political parties.
Though 23 parties participated, only 5 managed to gain representation. The Jatiya Party won 11 seats to become the third largest party, while trivial representation was attained by partners of the Awami League’s 14-party alliance. Despite the significant number of 135 candidates from the 'Sheaf of Paddy,' a symbol of the Bangladesh Trinamool BNP everyone faced a regrettable defeat. Veteran JP lawmaker Anwar Hossain Manju, JASAD president Hasanul Huq Inu, Workers Party general secretary Fazle Hossain Badsha and other leaders lost. JASAD leader Mosharraf Hossain lost from Lakshmipur-4 constituency Despite having the second highest tally, independent candidates lack the organization to be an official opposition. That role will likely fall again to the Jatiya Party.
Of 1,969 total candidates, 1,532 were affiliated with 28 parties. The distribution was highly skewed, with 265 from the Awami League and 264 from its main rival, the Jatiya Party. Smaller parties each fielded far fewer - the National People’s Party had 122 and Bangladesh Congress 96, for example. Independents totaled 437, many unofficial entrants from the major parties contesting without formal approval.
Remarkably, dozens of independents prevailed, even against seasoned incumbents. Casualties of “rebel” independents from the Awami League include presidium member Kazi Zafar Ullah, central executive committee members Asim Kumar Ukil and Abdus Sobhan Mia Golap, and three-term parliamentarian Dhirendra Debnath Shambhu.
This unprecedented success of independent candidates may signify changing political winds in Bangladesh. Specifically, three implications stand out that politicians and parties should heed.
First, a tendency to vote based solely on party affiliation appears to be declining. Voters seem increasingly willing to objectively weigh candidate competence instead of voting automatically for their traditional partisan symbol. Giant killers running as independents reflect the growing primacy of individual ability and integrity relative to partisan identity in shaping vote choice.
Second, substantive ties to one’s constituency could now matter more than wealth, ministerial rank, or activism. Candidates can likely no longer take even safe seats for granted without nurturing local bonds. Grassroots outreach and accessibility seem essential regardless of profile or connections. Days when prominent figures could parachute into unfamiliar constituencies just before elections and expect deferential treatment may be ending.
Finally, traditional criteria used by parties to nominate candidates seem outdated. Decisions based purely on financial means, family political background, or loyalty now carry grave electoral risks. Voters in this election demonstrated readiness to reprimand prominent figures lacking in merit or popularity. Hence, nominating candidates with strong local appeal is becoming vital. Ignoring public sentiment by unilateral decisions invites further voter backlash.
In summary, the strong electoral performance of independents sends an unambiguous directive to Bangladeshi politicians and parties needing heeding. Voters appear increasingly judicious in factoring candidate competency over partisan identity, while unpopular figures can no longer expect rescue by party machinery. The era of taking safe seats for granted also seems over. Accordingly, substantive ties with constituents, integrity, and performance should now feature more prominently over traditional considerations like money, lineage and connections in candidate nominations if parties wish to avoid embarrassment. Politicians who fail to acknowledge the earnestness of this message from voters do so at their peril.
(The writer is a columnist and activist & can be contacted at email@example.com: Views expressed are personal)
Donald Trump achieved a resounding victory in Iowa's caucuses, marking a significant milestone in the US presidential race and solidifying his position as the presumptive Republican candidate poised to challenge President Joe Biden in the upcoming November election. Despite maintaining a consistent lead in polls for over a year, the Iowa contest served as a crucial litmus test to determine whether Trump could effectively translate his advantage into a remarkable return to the White House.
The outcome unfolded swiftly, with major US networks taking merely half an hour from the commencement of polls to declare Trump as the winner, having garnered nearly three-quarters of the early vote. While speculation lingered about the potential impact of Trump's legal entanglements—facing multiple civil and criminal trials across various jurisdictions—on his support, the results indicated robust backing for the former president. Trump's decisive triumph in Iowa underscores his enduring political influence and sets the stage for a heated electoral showdown with President Biden in the upcoming general election.
In a decisive move by Taiwanese voters, Vice President Lai Ching-te, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) presidential candidate, secured victory on Saturday, marking a clear rejection of China's warnings against supporting him. The election, framed by Beijing as a choice between war and peace, defied China's insistence not to vote for Lai, whose DPP advocates for Taiwan's distinct identity and rejects China's territorial claims. This election marked an unprecedented attempt by the DPP, seeking a third term within Taiwan's existing electoral framework.
Lai faced two formidable opponents: Hou Yu-ih from Taiwan's largest opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), and former Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je of the recently established Taiwan People's Party, founded in 2019. Both conceded defeat as Lai secured a significant mandate.
In the lead-up to the election, China vehemently criticized Lai as a perilous separatist, warning that any moves toward Taiwan's formal independence would lead to war. Despite Lai's calls for dialogue, China remained steadfast in its rejection. The election outcome not only reaffirms Lai's political standing but also underscores the Taiwanese electorate's defiance of external pressures and their commitment to shaping the island's future through democratic means.
Hafiz Abdul Salam Bhuttavi, a founding member of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) and deputy to Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the 26/11 Mumbai Attacks, passed away due to cardiac arrest while in the custody of the Pakistani government, as confirmed by the United Nations Security Council's Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee. This event occurred on May 29 last year in Muridke, Punjab province, Pakistan.
Bhuttavi played a significant role in the LeT, serving as acting emir on two occasions when Hafiz Saeed was detained. He managed the group's day-to-day operations and made independent decisions during crucial times, such as the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, when Saeed was held until June 2009. Bhuttavi issued fatwas authorizing LeT's operations and was involved in preparing operatives for the Mumbai terror attack, delivering lectures on martyrdom operations. The 2008 Mumbai attacks resulted in the tragic deaths of over 150 people.
Apart from his role in terrorist activities, Bhuttavi was responsible for LeT's madrassah network and played a crucial part in establishing a LeT organizational base in Lahore in 2002. The United Nations committee also confirmed that Hafiz Saeed is currently in the custody of the Pakistani government. Saeed, aged 73, is serving a 78-year imprisonment sentence following his conviction in terror financing cases.
China has committed to safeguarding the "sovereignty" of the Maldives and enhancing diplomatic ties following the signing of crucial infrastructure agreements, as announced by both parties. In the midst of geopolitical competition between Beijing and Delhi for influence, Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu, elected in September, expressed his intent to nurture "strong ties" with China while removing Indian troops.
During Muizzu's inaugural state visit to China, the country that serves as the Maldives' primary external creditor, he engaged with President Xi Jinping. This meeting resulted in the "elevation of bilateral ties," according to Beijing's state media. President Xi emphasized that, given the prevailing circumstances, China-Maldives relations present a historic opportunity to build upon past accomplishments and move forward. He assured that China respects and supports the Maldives in charting a development path tailored to its national conditions. Beijing firmly supports the Maldives in safeguarding its national sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and national dignity.
President Muizzu expressed gratitude to President Xi for China's substantial contribution to the Maldives' economic success and its role in the country's infrastructure development. Notably, Muizzu's political party benefited from funding through China's Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, a key component of President Xi's strategy to extend China's global influence. The Maldives, under Muizzu's predecessor Abdulla Yameen, heavily borrowed from Beijing for construction projects and distanced itself from India. As of 2021, the Maldives owed 42 percent of its total external debts exceeding $3 billion to Beijing, with 11 percent of that debt owed to China's Exim Bank, a significant Belt and Road creditor, according to the World Bank and the Maldives' finance ministry.
The political turmoil in the Maldives has deepened as Member of Parliament Ali Azim, affiliated with The Democrats, called for the removal of President Mohamed Muizzu amid a growing dispute over critical comments directed at Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Azim urged the largest opposition party, the MDP, to initiate a vote of no-confidence, while another MP, Meekail Naseem, requested Parliament to question Foreign Minister Moosa Zameer over perceived inaction on derogatory remarks against PM Modi.
Opposition lawmakers intensify their attacks on President Muizzu ahead of the upcoming general elections this year. MDP leader Mariya Ahmed Didi criticized the ruling party for jeopardizing an "age-old relationship" with India and emphasized an "India first policy."
Ahmed Mahloof, another MDP leader and former Youth and Sports Minister, expressed concerns about the potential adverse impact on the Maldivian economy if Indian tourists continue to boycott the country. He warned of difficulties in recovery, given the significant contribution of Indian tourists to foreign exchange and job creation. Reports of mass cancellations by Indian tourists prompted the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry to condemn "derogatory comments" against PM Modi.
Former Tourism Minister Abdulla Mausoom urged Indians to disregard the comments of any minister and emphasized the Maldives' reliance on tourism, with Indian travelers being key sources of income.
Prominent Maldivian figures, including former President Ibrahim Solih and ex-Foreign Minister Abdullah Shahid, criticized the use of "hateful language" and deemed the remarks against India as "reprehensible." Former Deputy Speaker Eva Abdulla labeled the comments as "racist," acknowledging rightful Indian anger.
President Muizzu's government termed the comments "unacceptable," with Foreign Minister Zameer expressing commitment to constructive dialogue with neighbors. Three ministers have been suspended in response.
The dispute erupted after PM Modi promoted Lakshadweep's tourism industry, leading to a #BoycottMaldives trend on Twitter. Bollywood celebrities and cricketers contributed to the trend. India's response has been measured, with New Delhi summoning the Maldives envoy, but neither the PM nor Foreign Minister S Jaishankar making public statements. Lakshadweep Administrator Praful Patel mentioned the challenge to India's dignity but dismissed the notion of a public apology.
The comments attacking PM Modi underscore strained India-Maldives ties, particularly since Muizzu, perceived as pro-China, assumed the presidency and praised Beijing as a "valued ally" during his State visit. China, while not formally reacting, acknowledged a "friendly and cooperative relationship" with the Maldives, according to the state-run Global Times.
Russia's national elections commission has officially registered the first two candidates to challenge President Vladimir Putin in the upcoming March election. Leonid Slutsky of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party and Vladislav Davankov of the New People Party have been approved to appear on the ballot for the March 15-17 vote. However, neither candidate poses a significant threat to Putin's dominance in Russian politics. Both candidates and their respective parties generally support legislation backed by Putin's United Russia party.
Slutsky, the head of the lower house of parliament's foreign affairs committee, has been a prominent supporter of the Kremlin's increasingly confrontational foreign policy. In the 2018 presidential election, the Liberal Democratic Party's candidate received less than 6 percent of the vote. Davankov, a deputy speaker of the Duma, represents the New People Party, established in 2020 with 15 seats in the 450-member Duma.
The Communist Party has nominated Nikolai Kharitonov as its candidate, but the elections commission has not yet formally registered him. Kharitonov previously ran in 2004, finishing second to Putin. Notably, a candidate advocating for peace in Ukraine was rejected from the presidential ballot last month, with the commission citing paperwork errors. Putin, running as an independent, is all but certain to secure victory in the election, with support from United Russia and the People's Front coalition. Independent candidates like Putin must gather significant support, including 500 nominations and at least 300,000 signatures from 40 regions or more, according to Russian law.
The Maldivian government has taken swift action by suspending three ministers, Maryam Shiuna, Malsha Shareef, and Mahzoom Majid, following their controversial social media posts against India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The posts, deemed insulting to India, triggered widespread outrage, prompting Indians to reportedly cancel their planned vacations to the Maldives.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement distancing the government from the offensive remarks, emphasizing that they were personal opinions and did not reflect the official stance. The government underscored the importance of exercising freedom of expression responsibly, promoting democratic values without spreading hatred or negativity, and maintaining strong relationships with international partners.
The controversy erupted when the Maldivian ministers and other leaders posted derogatory comments against PM Modi, who had shared photos and videos from his visit to Lakshadweep. The social media posts gained attention, with some suggesting Lakshadweep as an alternative tourist destination to the Maldives. This led to heightened tensions, with opposition leaders within the Maldives criticizing the offensive language.
Prominent figures, including former president Mohamed Nasheed and former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, condemned the remarks as appalling and called on President Mohamed Muizzu's government to distance itself from the offensive comments. This development is seen as a reassurance to India amid diplomatic challenges with the island nation.
The strained ties between India and the Maldives have been exacerbated since President Muizzu took office, pledging to reduce the presence of Indian military personnel and shift the country's policy away from an "India first" approach. Choosing Turkey for his first international visit and meeting PM Modi in the UAE, President Muizzu signaled a departure from the traditional diplomatic norms. The establishment of a core group to discuss the withdrawal of Indian troops further underscored the diplomatic challenges.
In light of the suspension of the ministers and the government's disavowal of the offensive remarks, there is hope for a potential diplomatic thaw between the Maldives and India, restoring the amicable relations that have been strained in recent months.
On Tuesday, Israel extended its conflict with Palestinian operatives to the Lebanese capital, Beirut, where an Israeli strike resulted in the death of Saleh al-Aruri, Hamas's deputy leader, along with his bodyguards, according to statements from the group and Lebanese security officials. The strike, part of Israel's vow to dismantle Hamas following unprecedented attacks on October 7, targeted a Hamas office in Beirut's southern suburbs, known as a stronghold for Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah movement.
This development raises concerns about the ongoing Israeli-Hamas conflict potentially escalating into a broader conflagration. The October attacks by Hamas, which killed approximately 1,140 people, mostly civilians, and took around 250 hostages, triggered a forceful Israeli response. Israel initiated a relentless bombardment and ground offensive in Gaza, resulting in at least 22,185 casualties, predominantly women and children, according to Gaza's health ministry.
In current events, Israeli forces continue to engage Hamas operatives in the heavily-bombed Gaza Strip. The Israeli army reported killing "dozens of terrorists," discovering long-range rocket launchers and tunnels during a raid on a weapons storage compound in the southern city of Khan Yunis. Meanwhile, Gaza's health ministry reported 70 people killed and over 100 wounded in the preceding 24 hours due to Israeli raids.
Notably, Israeli strikes targeted the Palestine Red Crescent Society headquarters in Khan Yunis twice, resulting in casualties among displaced individuals seeking refuge there. The situation in Gaza has led to a humanitarian crisis, with 2.4 million people under siege and bombardment, many displaced and crowded into shelters. United Nations agencies express alarm over the risk of famine and disease, highlighting the dire circumstances facing the residents of the Gaza Strip. The conflict's toll on civilians and the potential for further escalation underscore the pressing need for international attention and resolution to prevent further human suffering in the region.
Rescue efforts in Japan are in a race against time following a 7.5-magnitude earthquake on New Year's Day in Ishikawa prefecture. The quake triggered tsunami waves, toppled buildings, ignited fires, and severed roads. The Noto Peninsula, particularly the port of Wajima, bore the brunt, with smoldering structures, flattened houses, and sunken fishing boats. Initial reports suggest six deaths, but the toll is expected to rise, with Kyodo news agency indicating 24 casualties.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida acknowledged the extensive damage during a disaster response meeting, emphasizing the urgency of rescue operations. Aerial footage revealed Wajima's devastation, featuring a seven-story building collapse and widespread fires. Over 45,000 households lost power in freezing temperatures, and numerous cities faced water shortages.
As rescuers battled aftershocks and raced against the clock, the destruction's magnitude became apparent in the daylight. The scenes depicted a region grappling with the aftermath of a major natural disaster, highlighting the challenges posed by collapsed infrastructure, fires, and the need for urgent humanitarian assistance. The situation remains fluid as authorities work tirelessly to locate and aid survivors amidst the widespread devastation.
The recent commencement of the 12th national parliament election in Bangladesh has sparked a significant upheaval. According to the announcement of the Election Commission, the 12th National Parliament Election is going to be held on January 7, 2024.Undeniably, elections hold a crucial role in democratic governance. In accordance with the Constitution of Bangladesh, citizens have the privilege to exercise their voting rights every five years, electing representatives who will work towards the welfare of the people and enact laws for their betterment. Ideally, one would expect a festive atmosphere surrounding an election. However, the reality is quite the opposite. Instead, there is a palpable sense of fear and apprehension among the people regarding the upcoming elections. This fear encompasses concerns about the possibility of violence, potential loss of life and property, and large-scale social disruption that could affect people's freedom of movement. The question remains: why does this fear persist?
One of the main reasons for this anxiety is that as the elections in Bangladesh are drawing nearer, doubts and suspicions in the country are increasing. There is a kind of excitement surrounding the confrontation between the two major parties of the country. The two major parties are taking some kind of rigid stance. The main opposition party BNP is moving towards boycotting elections with the demand for a caretaker government. On the other hand, the ruling party is rapidly moving towards elections as per the constitution. This apprehension did not arise overnight. The breeding ground for this apprehension has been created over the last 1 year. The BNP's movement in the last 1 year, various kinds of pressure from various foreign powers etc. had put the government in quite an uncomfortable position. However, some impractical and easy decisions of the BNP centered around the rally on the 28th have put the party in quite an awkward position. On the day of the rally, the government got the opportunity to crack down on BNP over some violence. As a result, a large portion of BNP's leaders were arrested. Due to the incidents of the attack on the Moitree train, the party also became a bit distant from foreign powers. Overall, BNP has been in a somewhat frustrating condition since October.
On the other hand, the government seems somewhat confident in pushing the BNP into an awkward position. While a significant portion of BNP is in disarray, on the other side, neighboring friends' covert support is making the government quite strong. The Election Commission is swiftly moving towards the election. Finally, 26 political parties have expressed their intention to participate in the election battle. 14 political parties have declared that they won't participate in the vote.
However, the two main challenges the government has to deal with regarding the elections are making the elections participatory and acceptable. Although the number of election-contesting parties is higher, questions remain about how much power these parties have to attract voters. To make the elections participatory and acceptable, voter turnout must be satisfactory and arrangements must be made for unhindered voting. If we do not consider the 9th parliamentary elections as an example of acceptable elections for the two parties, let's look - in the 9th parliamentary elections, the boat symbol of Awami League got 48 percent of the votes. BNP with the paddy sheaf symbol got 32 percent of the votes. The total turnout was 87 percent. If we logically assume that BNP's voters did not increase even by 1 percent, then there is a strong possibility that this 32 percent voter will be absent. On the other hand, from the experience of the last few by-elections, it is seen that although the Awami League candidates have won, the voter turnout was very low. This means, it can be understood that even among the 48 percent of voters that Awami League has, a large portion was absent when it came to voting.
Overall, ensuring voter turnout will be a big challenge in this election. Only when voter turnout in the election is ensured and those voters can cast their votes without hindrance, will the election gain acceptability. Whether as the ruling party or as the most popular party among the participating parties at the moment, Awami League has the greatest responsibility in this regard. Awami League has to ensure the presence of their voters at the polling centers. Despite ensuring the overwhelming presence of their workers in past by-elections, the Awami League couldn't ensure the voter turnout. This is definitely a major failure for Awami League as a political party. To address this failure, implementing a successful action plan is very important. Even a bit of negligence regarding the action plan formulated to increase voter turnout can put Awami League in a very uncomfortable position. Awami League has to ensure that all of their huge task force are present at the polling centers. Steps have to be taken firmly by Awami League so that issues like not getting nominations for favorite candidates or panels do not hinder voter turnout in any way.
Another issue is that voters' security must be ensured. Although the Election Commission will supervise law and order after the announcement of the election schedule but still Awami League as the ruling party also needs to keep a vigilant eye on this issue. They must take appropriate steps to prevent violence at the grassroots level as was witnessed in the 2014 election scenario. As a political party, it is Awami League's responsibility to politically deal with those who try to disrupt elections.
Overall, it can be said that the main driving force for an acceptable and participatory election is voters. The active presence of voters can subdue any criticism centered on the elections. Therefore, to make the election acceptable, the Awami League must devote all their efforts including formulating the right action plan to ensure voter turnout.
(Writer is columnist and journalist & can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org )