Talks in tatters

Marathon hartal, govt’s excesses virtually end hope for political breakthrough

dialogue colage

The arrest of some senior opposition leaders has led many Awami League and BNP leaders to believe that the window for talks is now closed and the government would hold the next polls in early January even if the main opposition does not take part.
This is set to make the political situation more volatile in the coming days as Sheikh Hasina and her archrival Khaleda Zia seem to be bent on standing their ground.
BNP-led 18-party opposition combine chief Khaleda may call for more blockades and hartals in the days to come to prevent the government from holding the parliamentary election with her alliance not taking part.
Hasina, ruling Awami League-led alliance chief, may go even harder on the opposition and detain more senior leaders to stop the opposition from waging street agitations and to go forward with her plan to hold the general election.
A number of senior leaders of Awami League and BNP yesterday talked to The Daily Star on condition of anonymity and explained the new developments.
“Nobody can stop her [Sheikh Hasina] government from holding the general election by January,” said a minister and a seasoned Awami Leaguer.
A BNP policymaker said the detention of senior BNP leaders on Friday infuriated Khaleda and she directed her party leaders yesterday to make the 72-hour hartal, which starts from today, an 84-hour shutdown.
“Now, she wants to wage an all out movement with no let up,” the leader said.
The BNP leader said the party national standing committee, chaired by Khaleda, on Thursday had decided on a 72-hour hartal from today and the programme was announced on Friday afternoon.
But a number of Awami League leaders yesterday said the call for strike had led the prime minister and her policymakers to believe that the opposition was not interested in ending the political crisis through talks and that Khaleda was fixated on resisting the polls through agitation.
This prompted Hasina to ask law enforcers to launch the crackdown and detain BNP senior leaders Moudud Ahmed, MK Anwar, Rafiqul Islam Mia, Abdul Awal Mintoo and Khaleda’s special assistant Shimul Biswas.
Most of the ruling party policymakers and ministers were in the dark about the arrest of BNP high-ups, some Awami League leaders claimed.
They said the crackdown was intended to weaken the opposition but a number of BNP leaders said the opposition activists have been asked to take to the streets from today with a firm resolve.
A government policymaker said its next course of action would be determined by the opposition’s activities. If the BNP continues rampaging on the streets and resorts to vandalism during hartal hours, the government would go for even tougher actions against them and arrest more top leaders.
Khaleda Zia’s movements could also be restricted, the government policymaker said.
But, if the BNP observes the hartal peacefully and if the party refrains from flexing its muscles, no further actions would be taken on the government’s part.
Some top Awami Leaguers said the government would not allow anyone to harm the environment for the elections. It wants the results to be acceptable to all.
It is now worried about poor voter turnout in the election due to the opposition’s street agitations. The government wants to make sure the elections are free, fair and credible and a really high number of voters exercise their franchise.
A large number of the Awami League policymakers view that the arrest of top BNP leaders was not intended to bring about any solution and that it would only deteriorate the political situation and trigger more unrest. They were against the Friday night’s crackdown on the opposition.
A top leader of the ruling party who is also very close of the party chief told party colleagues that the recent arrests were not a wise move for the government. The leader knew nothing about the arrests going to be made until they were made.
Many party top leaders think that state of emergency might be declared and the army might be called in after the Election Commission declares the polls schedule.

Source: The Daily Star

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