Thousands vow to restore democracy in Bangladesh

Due to the decade-long large-scale corruption, siphoning off money abroad, and a series of policy failures during the Awami League regime led by Sheikh Hasina in 2009, Bangladesh started facing a severe dollar crisis in mid-2022. This resulted in a domino effect on the economy. Prices of goods went high, electricity became costly, and power cuts became a part of life. The largest opposition party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), decided to protest the misrule that was taking a toll on people.

Sheikh Hasina, whose authoritarian rule has been recently termed as draconian, and her police and party’s thugs, came down hard on the opposition when they protested the misrule and asked for democratic reforms. From July to September, almost a dozen people were either shot dead in daylight due to police firing or were killed by ruling Awami League men.

As a response to the anarchy, BNP declared to hold divisional rallies in the 10 administrative divisions of the party on September 28. After holding a series of rallies in 9 divisions, which were joined by millions of people, according to the journalists, despite the government bans on movement and a series of strikes, since October 15, 2022, BNP decided to host the final divisional programme of the year on December 10, the Democracy Day.

The Awami League government took numerous oppressive measures to restrict the public gathering in the capital, from not providing the requested venue for the programme, to killing an activist of the party, Maqbul Hossain, on December 7. A special team of police, instructed by Dhaka Metropolitan Police Detective Branch head Harun-ar-Rashid, ransacked the party headquarter at Naya Paltan and took away the documents and electric devices, including hard disks of the computers.

A day before the rally, the secretary general of the party Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, and standing committee member Mirza Abbas Uddin Ahmed were picked up at midnight from their home and were only shown arrested after almost 14 hours in police custody. Relentless efforts of the BNP to hold the rally compelled the government to allow the holding of the rally at a local field, and within an hour or two, that field was full of BNP supporters, activists, and leaders.

On the day of the rally, several other measures like arresting people who were on their way to the rally, beating up common people in suspicion of loyalty to BNP, internet slowdown, installing police checkpoints at the entrance of the city etc. were taken to stop people from joining the rally. Yet, according to the journalists, a hundred thousand people joined the rally to show their support for democratic reforms to ensure credible elections.

All the parliament members of BNP pledged to resign from the parliament on that day, and the party’s senior leader and standing committee member Dr Khandakar Mosharraf Hossain, read out the 10 demands for the reform for a fair and credible election which is due this year, or early next year.

Among them, the key demands included the abolishing of the current ‘unelected and illegal’ parliament and the resignation of the Awami League government, revoking the verdicts by the partisan court against all opposition party leaders, journalists, and scholars, including Khaleda Zia, and the formation of an independent commission to identify corruption in all areas, including money laundering, in banking and financial sectors.

BNP has declared to continue with new programmes in the coming days to realize these demands.