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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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When Ontario declared a COVID-19 health emergency last spring, the first instinct of Ottawa entrepreneur Peter O’Blenis was to preserve cash.

“We basically stopped our discretionary spending,” said O’Blenis, the co-founder and CEO of Evidence Partners, which makes software for accelerating the review of scientific and medical literature, using artificial intelligence. “We cut investments in things meant to help us grow.”

It was a defensive posture born of experience. O’Blenis had 12 years earlier nearly been crushed by the global financial crisis. Another looked to be on the way.

In 2008, O’Blenis and his colleagues, Jonathan Barker and Ian Stefanison, hit a brick wall with their first venture, TrialStat, which helped hospitals manage patients’ electronic data. While TrialStat had secured $5.5 million in venture financing just a couple of years earlier, the founders had burned through most of it during a rapid expansion. When the financial world collapsed, so did their firm.

The trio played things far more conservatively with Evidence Partners, which has relied almost exclusively on customer revenues to finance expansion.

The caution proved unnecessary. Like so many other businesses, O’Blenis underestimated the government’s willingness to keep the economy afloat with easy money. Nor did he anticipate that COVID-19 would prove a significant catalyst for the firm’s revenues so soon.

Evidence Partners is hardly the only local firm with technology particularly suited for the war against COVID-19. Spartan Bioscience and DNA Genotek adapted existing products to create technology for identifying the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Ottawa-based units of Abbott Laboratories and Siemens Healthineers make portable blood analyzers that diagnose patients afflicted by the virus.

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Shepherds of Good Hope wants to expand ByWard Market operation with eight-storey housing complex

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The Shepherds of Good Hope plans to build an eight-storey building near its current shelter for the homeless in the ByWard Market that would include supportive housing for up to 48 people, a soup kitchen and a drop-in centre.

The organization says it wants to be part of the solution to the housing crisis that has fuelled a rise in homelessness in Ottawa.

People would be moved out of the emergency shelters and into their own tiny apartments in the complex, which would include a communal dining hall and staff available to help with mental health, addiction and medical problems, said Caroline Cox, senior manager of communications for the Shepherds.

Some residents in the neighbourhood are opposed, saying services for the homeless and vulnerable should not be concentrated in one area of the city.

“I was flabbergasted,” said homeowner Brian Nolan, who lives one block from the development proposed for 216 Murray St., where currently a one-story building houses offices for the Shepherds of Good Hope.

Nolan said that, in the 15 years he’s lived in the area, it has become increasingly unsafe, with home and car thefts, drug dealing, loitering, aggressive and erratic behaviour, urinating, defecating and vomiting on sidewalks and yards and sexual acts conducted in public on his dead-end street. Before he lets his son play basketball in the yard, he checks the ground for needles and his home security camera to see who is nearby.

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Carleton University Hosts the Forum Lecture: Towards a Feminist Post-COVID City

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evehe Carleton University Forum Lecture: Towards a Feminist Post-COVID City given by Leslie Kern launches Ottawa Architecture Week. Urban geographer, author and academic, Kern will discuss how the pandemic has highlighted long-standing inequalities in the design, use and inclusivity of urban spaces. The talk will share some of the core principles behind a feminist urban vision to inform a wider vision of justice, equity and sustainability.

When
: Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021 at 6:30 p.m.
Registration: https://alumni.carleton.ca/event-registration-architecture-forum-series-with-leslie-kern-2/.

About the Speaker

Kern holds a PhD in Women’s Studies from York University. She is currently an associate professor of Geography and Environment and director of Women’s and Gender Studies at Mount Allison University.

Kern is the author of two books on gender and cities, including Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-Made World (Verso). The book discusses how our cities have failed in terms of fear, motherhood, friendship, activism, the joy and perils of being alone, and also imagines what they could become.

Kern argues, “The pandemic has shown us that society can be radically reorganized if necessary. Let’s carry that lesson into creating the non-sexist city.”

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