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Bangladesh elections 2018: What you need to know | Bangladesh News

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On Sunday, Bangladesh will vote in its 11th general elections, which will be held amid widespread violence, deep mistrust and wrangling between the government and the opposition.

Despite earning global plaudits for sheltering nearly a million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, the nine-year tenure of incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was marked by allegations of creeping authoritarianism, crushing of political rivals and a gag on media freedom.

Hasina, 71, is seeking a record fourth term. Her party, the Awami League (AL), leads the Grand Alliance coalition, which is pitted against the Jatiya Oikya Front (or National Unity Front), led by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

BNP chief and two-time prime minister, Khaleda Zia, 73, is languishing in a jail in the capital Dhaka and banned from contesting over corruption charges she says are politically motivated.

Both Hasina and Zia belong to political families, share a long rivalry and have alternated in power for most of the past three decades in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

In Zia’s absence, the National Unity Front alliance is being led by Kamal Hossain, 82, an Oxford-educated jurist and former law minister.

Hossain, however, is not contesting and therefore, it is not clear who will be the prime minister if the opposition alliance wins.





Hasina and Zia have alternated in power for most of the past three decades [Al Jazeera]

What makes it a high-stakes election

The Bangladesh parliamentary elections are being seen as a litmus test for the future of democracy in the world’s eighth-most populous country of over 170 million people.

The last election in 2014 was boycotted by the BNP and shunned by international observers as “an electoral farce”. More than half the seats remained uncontested that year, giving Hasina’s party a walkover.

A repeat of the one-sided 2014 election is being feared this year amid the opposition’s allegations of attacks on its candidates and harassment by the government.

Ali Riaz, professor in the department of politics and government at Illinois State University in the US, told Al Jazeera that the election is significant for two reasons.

“One, this is a moment to change the country’s direction away from authoritarianism, which saw a shrinking of democratic space, decimation of the opposition, gagging of the press and a general culture of fear,” he said.

For Riaz, the other reason is Bangladesh’s history of anti-incumbency.

“Bangladesh has never seen a situation where the incumbent has returned to power, except in 2014, which was anyway not a participatory election [because of the BNP boycott],” he said.

“Therefore, Bangladeshis have to decide whether they want to see change or continuity.”

Will the election be free and fair?

This is going to be the biggest question on the minds of over 100 million voters until Sunday.

The BNP claims half of the opposition’s 300 candidates were attacked while campaigning, while more than 11,500 of its members, including over a dozen contenders, have been detained in the past month.

Authorities last week blocked the BNP’s website, claiming it contained “indecent” and “obscene” material. Even its Facebook page was down for days.

Violent campaign clashes have claimed at least six lives so far – four BNP supporters and two from the Awami League.

Riaz said he is “seriously worried and deeply concerned” that there will be a “free, fair, credible and acceptable elections” in Bangladesh.

“Even the election commission is turning a blind eye,” he told Al Jazeera.

The opposition alliance even demanded the resignation of chief election commissioner K M Nurul Huda, accusing him of bias.

But the ruling AL has rejected allegations of intimidating the opposition, blaming the BNP instead of carrying out vandalism to delegitimise the vote.

“Their strategy of boycotting the 2014 election failed. So they changed their strategy and are now raising unnecessary and illogical allegations against the administration and the election commission,” AL’s Mahbubul Alam Hanif told Al Jazeera.

Bangladeshis have to decide whether they want to see change or continuity.

Ali Riaz, Illinois State University

Amid international concern over the events in the past weeks, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has asked “all stakeholders to ensure an environment free of violence, intimidation and coercion before, during and after the elections”.

The United States called off an observer mission it was financing because of delays in issuing visas, while Human Rights Watch said the election was being conducted in a “repressive political environment”. 





Bangladesh never saw the incumbent government return to power, except in 2014 [Al Jazeera]

What are the main issues?

There are four major issues deciding the contentious election: the country’s economy, Hasina’s alleged authoritarianism, the gag on media freedom, and 1971 war crimes.

Economy

Despite allegations of an authoritarian regime, Hasina succeeded in making notable economic progress during her tenure.

Estimates suggest that at the current rate of nearly 8 percent growth, Bangladesh would cross the per capita income of its more powerful neighbour, India, by 2020, and is expected to turn into a middle-income economy by 2024.

Export of ready-made garments constitutes nearly 82 percent of the country’s economy, with the output in 2017 slated at over $28bn.

In its election manifesto, the ruling AL has vowed to increase Bangladesh’s gross domestic product to 9 percent from the 7.8 percent reported in 2017-18.

The opposition Jatiya Oikya Front, on the other hand, has promised to raise the minimum wage of garment workers, freeze gas and electricity prices, and give the central bank more autonomy.

“Yes, Bangladesh has succeeded in terms of its economic growth, but there are spots and blemishes in that record. Disparity has increased, banking sector is in shambles,” Riaz told Al Jazeera.

‘Authoritarianism’ and attack on rivals

Observers say Bangladesh under Hasina turned into a de-facto one-party state, where the ruling party has usurped the constitutional rights of its opponents and common citizens.

Hasina’s regime saw a near decimation of the opposition, with her chief political rival, Khaleda Zia, sentenced to 10 years in jail for corruption and banned from contesting the election.

Zia faces more than 30 other charges, including sedition, which her party has denounced as politically motivated.

Recently, former chief justice Surendra Kumar Sinha – the first Hindu to hold the post – wrote in his memoir, A Broken Dream: Rule of Law, Human Rights and Democracy, that the country was under an “autocratic government”.

A rattled opposition, in its poll manifesto, has promised changes in the law that would limit a person from holding the prime minister’s post for more than two terms. It has also vowed to reform the judiciary.

“Jatiya Oikya Front has committed to make changes such as balancing the power between the president and the prime minister,” said Riaz.

Gag on media freedom

Bangladesh is ranked 146 out of 180 countries in media freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

According to RSF, at least 25 journalists and several hundred bloggers and Facebook users were prosecuted in 2017 under the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act – a broad law against any electronic communication that “tends to deprave or corrupt” the image of the state.

Last month, award-winning photographer and activist Shahidul Alam was released on bail after spending 107 days behind bars under the ICT Act.

Earlier this month, Alam was named by Time magazine as one of a group of journalists, including slain dissident Jamal Khashoggi, as the Person of the Year for 2018.

The draconian Digital Security Act (DSA) further spread a climate of fear for penalising obtaining papers, information or pictures from government offices without official consent. 

The BNP has promised to scrap the controversial law.

1971 war crimes

The war of independence with Pakistan remains Bangladesh’s most divisive political issue.

Since coming to power in 2009, Hasina used the emotions surrounding the 1971 war to justify her move towards an authoritarian rule.

The Awami League projects itself as the party of liberation, painting the opposition – mainly the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami, which was banned in 2013 – as “pro-Pakistan” and therefore, dangerous and disloyal.

An international crimes tribunal set up by Hasina in 2010 sentenced dozens of top Jamaat and BNP leaders to death and jail on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Riaz thinks the Jamaat “needs to reinvent itself” and take responsibility for its role in 1971. “They should have done it long time ago. It is long overdue,” he said.

Despite a ban, many leaders of the Jamaat are contesting Sunday’s elections in alliance with the BNP. 

– With inputs from agencies





While Hasina banks on economic growth, the opposition accuses her of silencing dissent [Al Jazeera]

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Ottawa transit commission hopes to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for OC Transpo workers

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Ottawa’s transit commission is pushing local and provincial health officials to recognize the role OC Transpo operators have played in keeping the city running during the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to bump train and bus drivers in the vaccination queue amid a recent surge in coronavirus infections affecting transit workers.

More than 100 OC Transpo staff across the entire organization have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to an update at Wednesday morning’s transit commission meeting.

Of those cases, 26 employees are currently recovering from the disease in self-isolation.

OC Transpo has seen a recent jump in COVID-19 cases, with Ottawa city council receiving reports of eight operators testing positive for the virus over a recent eight-day period.

Transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert attempted to find out how many of the total cases are traced to workplace transmission, but OC Transpo boss John Manconi said he’s been advised by medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches that he can’t share that information for privacy reasons.

Transit operators are listed in the second priority group of essential workers as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine sequencing plans, but several commissioners speaking Wednesday wanted to get the city’s bus and train drivers bumped higher in the order.

Councillors Riley Brockington and Glen Gower both put forward motions looking to get front-line OC Transpo employees prioritization in vaccine sequencing, but others pointed out that the much-debated public health topic of who gets the vaccine and when is well beyond the scope of the transit commission.

“We are not in a position in transit commission to be decreeing, or making an edict, about what group of essential workers is more at risk than others and should be prioritized. That should be left up to public health experts,” Wright-Gilbert said.

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who also chairs the Ottawa Board of Health, reflected on the board’s four-plus-hour meeting on Monday evening, during which vaccine sequencing and prioritizing essential workers dominated the conversation.

“Vaccine sequencing is obviously a very difficult maze to get through,” he said.

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COVID-19: Ottawa police announce end of 24-7 presence at Ontario-Quebec border

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Less than two days after the Ontario government’s latest COVID-19 restrictions came into effect, calling for non-essential traffic to be stopped at the province’s borders with Quebec and Manitoba, the Ottawa Police Service has announced it is stopping its 24-hour checkpoints.

According to a statement issued by the service Tuesday evening, the around-the-clock border checkpoints were set to end as of 8 p.m. on Tuesday in favour of rotating checkpoints across the city throughout the day until Ontario’s temporary regulations end.

“Since the onset of the border operations, the OPS has been working closely with Ottawa Public Health (OPH) along with local stakeholders and interprovincial stakeholders (the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau, the Ontario Provincial Police etc.) to assess any local public health, traffic and safety impacts. The assessment resulted in today’s operational changes,” the statement said.

“The operational changes announced today are designed to better ensure the health and safety of all, to minimize delays and/or hazards for travellers and to ensure essential workers can get to their places of employment on time.”

The statement also said the police service, while working to comply with the provincial order, was focused on education and enforcement actions that “support improved public health outcomes and respect the concerns of our most marginalized and racialized communities”

Officers said they will be conducting daily assessments on border crossings and that there could be further changes.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that the border closures are ultimately subject to the discretion of local police enforcing the regulations.

“Local police services are best positioned to determine the operational deployments necessary to ensure the continued safety of their communities,” the spokesperson said, noting that the order’s regulations still apply to individuals entering the province.

The temporary order restricts Quebec residents from entering Ontario. If prompted, individuals must stop when directed by an enforcement officials and provide their reason for entering the province.

The main exemptions to the restrictions include if the person’s main home is in the province, if they work in Ontario, if they’re transporting goods, if they’re exercising Indigenous or treaty rights, if they need health care or if there’s a basis on compassionate grounds.

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COVID-19 vaccines in Ottawa: Nearly half of all residents in their 60s have at least one dose

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Public Health’s latest COVID-19 vaccination update shows that nearly half of all residents 60 to 69 years old have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a figure that has all but doubled in the past week.

OPH’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard shows 58,000 residents 60 to 69 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 49.3 per cent of that age group’s population in Ottawa. Last Wednesday, OPH reported 30,000 residents 60 to 69 had had at least one dose, which was 25.4 per cent.

As age demographics get younger, the population grows larger and the coverage by percentage may appear to grow more slowly, even if clinics are vaccinating greater numbers of people. For example, the latest figures show that 83 per cent of people aged 70 to 79 have had at least one dose. By raw population that’s 60,000 people, only slightly higher than half of all people in their 60s.

Vaccinations are open through the Ontario portal to anyone 60 and older and, this week, the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for administration at pharmacies and primary care clinics to anyone in Ontario 40 and older.

OPH reported a new shipment this week of 25,740 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. To date, Ottawa has received 305,130 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the provincial government.

The number of eligible residents (i.e. 16 and older) with at least one dose of a vaccine is now up to 28 per cent.

Tuesday was Ottawa’s second-busiest day for vaccinations overall, with the OPH reporting 9,729 shots administered. Last Friday saw 9,887 shots administered in a single day.

QUICK STATS

  • Ottawa residents with at least one dose: 248,668
  • Ottawa residents with two doses: 26,722
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with at least one dose: 28 per cent
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with two doses: 3 per cent
  • Percent of total population with at least one dose: 24 per cent
  • Percent of total population with two doses: 3 per cent

VACCINATION COVERAGE BY AGE FOR OTTAWA RESIDENTS WITH AT LEAST ONE DOSE

  • 10-19: 1.6 per cent (1,804 people)
  • 20-29: 8.3 per cent (13,452 people)
  • 30-39: 9.5 per cent (14,999 people)
  • 40-49: 12.9 per cent (17,350 people)
  • 50-59: 28.8 per cent (40,320 people)
  • 60-69: 49.3 per cent (58,627 people)
  • 70-79: 82.9 per cent (62,808 people)
  • 80-89: 87.5 per cent (29,358 people)
  • 90+: 89.2 per cent (7,893 people)
  • Unknown age: 2,057 people 

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