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Ten years of Sheikh Hasina: ‘Development minus democracy’ | News

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Dhaka, Bangladesh – As election campaigning draws to a close, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has urged Bengalis to vote for the “boat” – a symbol of her ruling party that has dominated Bangladesh‘s political scene for the past decade.

Loudspeakers have been blurting out pro-government campaign songs to woo voters, while the streets of Dhaka have been emblazoned with posters of Hasina’s Awami League (AL) party and the Grand Alliance coalition.

In contrast, the opposition has remained largely silent ahead of Sunday’s elections, citing intimidation and threat of arrest by law enforcement agencies.

On Friday, the streets were comparatively quieter as the parties ended their near month-long bitter campaign marred by violence.

The main opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), whose leader Khaleda Zia was jailed in February for corruption, said thousands of supporters have been arrested ahead of the poll, and scores of its candidates have been attacked.

In order to remove Hasina, the BNP has joined forces with Kamal Hossain, a leading lawyer who was previously a close ally of Hasina’s father, also Bangladesh’s founding president.

Critics, including Hossain, have accused Hasina, who is seeking office for a third consecutive term, of authoritarian rule, noting increased curbs on press freedom.

But Hasina, who wrapped up her campaign with a warning to voters to “remain alert to subversive activity of the BNP and its cohorts”, has promoted a different narrative – Bangladesh’s impressive economic growth in the past decade under her rule.

GDP has grown, but if you look at the inequality, it has intensified according to credible studies and data

Asif Nazrul, professor of law at the University of Dhaka

‘From darkness to prosperity’

Since she took power in 2008, Bangladesh’s per capita income has seen a three-fold increase. The country’s gross domestic product (GDP) stood at $250bn in 2017, according to the IMF, and last year clocked a growth rate of 7.28 percent.

“I promise to build a more beautiful future by learning from the past. We will build a non-communal golden Bangladesh free from hunger, poverty and illiteracy as cherished by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman,” Hasina said at the launch of her party manifesto two weeks ago.

The AL’s manifesto promises to make Bangladesh, one of the world’s most densely populated countries with a population of 160 million, a middle-income nation by 2021 and triple its current per capita income of $1,750 in the next decade.

The garment industry has emerged as one of the main pillars of the economy, providing jobs to 4.5 million people. It makes up 14 percent of the GDP and nearly 80 percent of the country’s exports worth $35bn.

Nearly 2.5 million Bangladeshi expatriates send home about $15bn annually in remittance.

The South Asian nation has performed well on most human development index indicators by controlling its population growth, improving infant mortality drastically that has resulted into higher life expectancy, which at 72 years, has surpassed those of India and Pakistan.

Mahbubul Alam Hanif, a senior AL leader, said there has been development in every sector under Hasina.

“Sheikh Hasina brought the country out of darkness to prosperity,” AL Joint General Secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif said. “The country has totally transformed in the last 10 years.” 

Khondokar Ibrahim Khaled, an economist, acknowledged the high growth rate but said much more was needed remained to develop the banking sector, which he said has suffered from non-performing loans.

“The devastating situation in the banking sector was not properly dealt with. Even after 80 percent bad loan at the Basic Bank no action was taken. There are bad loans still in government banks. This was simply looting,” Khaled said.

Development over democracy

Entrepreneurs have lauded the government for its pro-business policies but some lamented the slow pace of infrastructure.

Syed Almas Kabir, president of the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS), the biggest umbrella organisation representing the country’s ICT sector, said: “the government has been sincere about supporting local businesses”.

But many critics and opposition leaders have raised their concerns at “inequitable growth” that they say has favoured the country’s wealthy class.

Asif Nazrul, professor of law at the University of Dhaka, says that inequality has risen in the last decade.

“It is true that the GDP has grown. But if you look at the inequality, it has intensified according to credible studies and data,” the Dhaka professor said.

Professor Nazrul said the ruling party is promising “development minus democracy”.

“If you read our constitution and the history of our liberation movement, does it say anywhere: ‘you can enjoy fruits of development if you are ready to sacrifice your democratic rights’.”

“Who has given the government the right to proclaim that ‘we have given you development, do not bother about democracy’.”

A restaurant owner in Dhaka’s Kawran Bazaar area echoed that sentiment, saying his “business has not grown much, in the last five years”.

The 30-year-old, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, told Al Jazeera: “I am not happy with the government … Many supporters of the ruling party visit my restaurant and ask us to vote for them. I can’t tell you which party I am going to vote for.”





 

‘No one can survive wrath of ruling party’

Mouri Huq (not her real name), 31, who works in the education sector and supports BNP, described Hasina’s decade-long rule as “a long nightmare”.

“No one could survive the wrath of the ruling party if they had a different political position than the government. I can cite so many examples of this from my experience,” she said.

“The enforced disappearances left the families of the victims wondering if their loved ones are alive or dead. A situation like that never existed before.”

Many critics and opposition supporters Al Jazeera spoke to said they feared to express their opinions in the public.

Editors have adopted self-censorship as the government passed a Digital Security Act that has been dubbed as “draconian” by rights groups. Under the law passed in September, police officials can search or arrest anyone without a warrant.

The arrest of renowned photographer Shahidul Alam in August for expressing his opinion against the government caused an outcry. He is since out on bail but if he is convicted under the ICT law, he might face up to 14 years in jail.

The opposition, which has accused Hasina muzzling press freedom, has pledged to take down the media laws passed by the government if it comes to power.

But Asaduzzaman Noor, the minister of culture, rejected the charges against Hasina as “nothing but blame-game”.

“She belongs to the people, she belongs to the soil, and she is the daughter of the father of the nation,” said the 72-year-old actor-turned leader.

“Her commitment is to improve the quality of lives of people of Bangladesh. To achieve that, she has to fight against many odds, but some people think she is authoritarian, but it’s not so,” he added.

“She is fighting for the people, not for the vested interests.”

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Ottawa families give mixed reviews for online schooling

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So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

For Masuma, the decision to keep her daughter home was complex: extended family members are immunocompromised and she worried the in-person learning environment would be unpleasant because of precautions. She also felt her daughter might benefit from being supported at home.

“She doesn’t necessarily enjoy school. I also found out during the pandemic that she was being bullied [last year],” said Masuma. “So I thought, why not try from home?”

To help her daughter socialize face-to-face with other kids, Masuma enrolled Hana in Baxter Forest School, an alternative education program where kids spend most of their time outside, one day a week. Hana also attends virtual Arabic classes two days a week after school. 

Masuma’s husband and Hana share the living room work space, and Masuma admits he does the lion’s share of helping their daughter stay on task. There is a possibility that he’ll be required to return to his office in the new year.

“When he goes back to work … it’s probably going to be a little bit more difficult.”

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No school closures after Christmas holiday break, says Ontario education minister

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Ontario elementary and secondary schools will not close for an extended winter break, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Closures aren’t needed given Ontario’s “strong safety protocols, low levels of (COVID-19) transmission and safety within our schools,” Lecce announced Wednesday afternoon. He said he had consulted with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and the province’s public health measures advisory table.

That ended speculation about school buildings remaining closed in January for a period of time after the Christmas break.

Earlier in the week, Lecce told reporters the government was considering having students spend “some period out of class” in January, perhaps switching to online learning.

In a statement, Lecce said that even though rates of community transmission of COVID-19 are increasing, “schools have been remarkably successful at minimizing outbreaks to ensure that our kids stay safe and learning in their classrooms.”

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Windy start to the week in Ottawa

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OTTAWA — It’s a blustery Monday in the capital with wind gusts of up to 50 km/hour expected throughout the day.

Environment Canada is forecasting a high of 4 C with a 60 per cent chance of showers or flurries before the wind dies down later this evening.

There’s a chance of flurries on Tuesday as well with a high of -1 C. The overnight low will dip to an unseasonal -9 C.  

Wednesday’s high will be just -5 C with lots of sunshine.

Seasonal temperatures return for the rest of the week..

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