Naeem Mohaiemen on Wed, 31 Dec 2008 03:48:50 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> We Did It, Rightist-Islamist Coalition Crushed In Bangladesh Elections

After 2 years of caretaker/army rule in Bangladesh, finally yesterday
return to democracy via elections. The fantastic news is that the
Islamist parties were wiped out. An absolute and crushing defeat.

In 2001 elections, the Jamaat e Islami increased from 3 seats to 17
seats in Parliament. Jamaat's leaders grabbed control of two powerful
ministries. We had to watch alleged 1971 war criminal Nizami negotiate
(as Industries Minister) with Ratan Tata of India (to no one's
surprise, Tata decided not to invest). We watched the Islamists
gradually infiltrate schools, banks, NGOs, institutions.

I was a wary cassandra, warning that the "Islamists" (obligatory
quotes) could do even better in 2008 elections. If they did, the
Sharia-fication project would find a new test laboratory. The recent
attacks by fringe "Islamist" groups on statues, theater plays, and
cultural events, fueled the fear that the Islamist bloc was winning.
>From that fear came all my op-eds of last two months. Alarmist and
fight-back language. In last few weeks, felt energized again with all
the secular groups mobilizing nationwide.

To everyone's delight, the election has delivered a bruising defeat to
the entire Rightist-Islamist coalition-- both the right-wing BNP
("vote for us to save country and Islam") and Jamaat e Islami
("Allah's Law").

People are using apocalyptic/jubilant language like "wiped off the
map" and "obliterated". Facebook has status messages that say "Proud 2
B Bangladeshi Today" (or "It's 1970 Again" or "My Taxes Won't Pay For
War Criminals To Fly Our Flag"). Triumphalist sentiment has it's own
limitations, but today I'm cautiously optimistic...

The center-left Awami League led "Grand Alliance" coalition captured a
gigantic majority of 262 seats. The BNP, in power for last 5 years
(before chaos over rigged elections led to the Army stepping in) have
only 29 seats. The Jamaat e Islami in tatters at 2 seats. Islami Oikko
Jote, with whom many of us clashed on street and printed page over
last few years, 0 seats! I am looking at the details and realizing
even two small left parties-- Workers Party (2 seats) and
JSD/Socialist (3 seats) have out-performed the Islamist bloc. Sweet.

But there's no reason to relax. The right-islamist coalition won't
just roll over and accept  annihilation. And there's a need to be
vigilant about the victors as well. Already there's fear as to whether
the center-left AL will lose its head with this giant victory. In its
past, the Awami League's 1970 election victory led to the breakup of
Pakistan and independence of Bangladesh in 1971. But from 72-75, the
AL lost its bearings, forming paramilitary squads, crushing
socialist+maoist opposition groups (there were no Islamists then) and
eventually installing one-party rule. That gave the excuse for the
military coup in 1975 that killed liberation war leader Sheikh Mujib
and his  entire family (except Sheikh Hasina who was out of the
country, and now leads her father's Awami League party). But we hope,
really hope, they have learned from history's mistakes.

Because I spent so much time outside Bangladesh, there's confusion
about my age. With all the hype about the "youth vote", I was called
"torun" (youth) on a TV talk show-- to which my friend responded in an
SMS "If you're torun, then I'm child labor". However, torun or not, I
was a first-time voter. Daily Star printed my diary of that

Yes I Voted
Daily Star, December 30, 2008

Election Day Photos & Later Begums On TV

And here's an op-ed in UK Guardian by Asif Saleh, director of
Drishtipat, an organization I volunteer for

Daring To Dream
Asif Saleh


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